When I first started my career as a worker's compensation attorney, my office represented thousands of workers exposed to asbestos who subsequently developed lung conditions such as asbestosis, bronchitis, reactive airways disease, and lung cancer. Lung conditions caused by asbestos exposure are slow starting and generally occur as a result of long-standing exposure to asbestos, as opposed to one or two short-term exposures. Asbestos was heavily used in the early part of the 20th century for fireproofing in shipyards, the automotive field, and the construction industry.
Once asbestos is applied to a surface, it eventually becomes hardened and if disturbed, the fibers can be released into the air. If you breath in the fibers, they can become trapped in the lungs and can cause scarring and inflammation. Many of these workers were exposed to asbestos fibers during construction or demolition but did not start having symptoms till 20 or 30 years later. Exposure to asbestos can increase the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare type of lung cancer. While asbestos was eventually banned in all new products in 1989, as it has been classified as a carcinogen or cancer-causing agent, it still is found in many older buildings.
As a result of increased awareness of the dangers of asbestos exposure, safeguards were implemented that caused the number of incidences of asbestos conditions to decrease along with the more debilitating forms of the disease. Unfortunately, it appears that we may see an increase in the incidences of asbestos-related conditions including its most deadly - lung cancer and mesothelioma - as a result of the attack on the World Trade Center.
When the Twin Towers collapsed, a massive dust cloud covered the City. First responders, volunteers, and different trades descended on Ground Zero to first look for survivors and then engage in the clean-up effort. Many of these men and women, along with ordinary citizens, were exposed to toxins including lead, mold, jet fuel, cement, and asbestos.
As a result of this exposure, many have become sickened and even have developed leukemia, thyroid cancer, non Hodgkin lymphoma, myeloma, and prostate cancer. The Zadroga Act provides monetary compensation as well as funding for medical treatment to victims of the Attack with the anticipation that there will be new and future claims filed as a result of breathing in these toxins.
According to the WTC Program Administrator, the minimum latency for mesothelioma is 11 years. As we have just passed the 15th Anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and our country, it is highly likely that we will see an increased recurrence of this deadly cancer. As there are deadlines to make a claim, those sickened should immediately file. You may also be eligible for Workers' Compensation benefits or retirement benefits if you were a member of a public retirement system. It is clear that losing almost 3,000 people on that tragic day was not the only price our country paid, as the toll has continued to rise and shows no signs of letting up.
Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers' Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers' Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers' Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.