April 30


The 9/11 Notice Act’s Imperative in Recognizing Overlooked Victims in Terrorist Attack

April 30, 2024

Vol. 104 No. 18

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, committed against the United States by the al-Qaeda Islamist group killed 2,977 people and injured thousands, while the devastating health effects caused by the hundreds of thousands of tons of debris containing toxic contaminants and carcinogens are still felt today.   

9/11 is one of the deadliest terror attacks committed in human history. Nineteen suicide attackers hijacked four commercial airliners. Two crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York, one plane hit the Pentagon, and one went down in rural Pennsylvania as a result of a passenger revolt. The targeting of the World Trade Center, and consequently the collapse of the 110-story tall Twin Towers, resulted in unimaginable damage to human life and the infrastructure in the densely populated lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. The collapse of the towers created massive dust clouds, leaving the affected area covered in ash and harmful debris, like asbestos, silica, metals, concrete, and glass. Fires burned for a prolonged period, releasing carcinogenic gases, smoke, and combustion. 

Responders, among them firefighters, rescue teams, recovery, cleanup, and construction workers and volunteers and survivors such as residents, students, and people having their jobs in the areas affected were exposed to hazardous chemicals and harmful debris for months after the attack, causing physical and psychological, short- and long- term acute conditions, including many types of cancer, aerodigestive disorders, and mental health conditions.     

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that around 400.000 people, out of which more than 91.000 Responders, were exposed to 9/11 toxic pollutants, most in the New York City Disaster Area. Almost 22 years after the disaster, only a small fraction of those who would qualify for free medical care and victim compensation are aware of and benefit from the existing federal support programs. This fraction mainly consists of 9/11 First Responders, as the national focus was directed toward their heroism in the first years, while the community of survivors was initially overlooked. The 9/11 Notice Act, which was signed into law on September 11, 2023, aims to change this.        

Federal Programs to support those affected by the 9/11 attacks

Following years of lobbying by physicians, medical scientists, and local community organizations aware of the various health problems affecting those who lived or worked at the sites of the attacks, in 2008, Congress expanded its 9/11- funding to support the Survivors, not only the Responders. Next, after the passage of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act in 2010, two federal programs were established: the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). Both will operate until 2090.  

The World Trade Center Health Program is under the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and pays for the medical monitoring and treatment of 9/11-related health conditions for Responders at crash sites; as well as Survivors who were present in the NYC Disaster Area on September 11, 2001, and who worked, resided, or attended school in the NYC Disaster Area between September 11, 2001 – July 31, 2002. 

The U.S. Department of Justice administers the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. It gives financial compensation for physical injuries, illnesses, or deaths to 9/11 Responders and Survivors who were present at the crash sites and at the NYC Disaster Area at any point between September 11, 2001, and May 30, 2002, as well as to the families of deceased individuals. 

As of September 2023, 86,481 Responders and 40,945 Survivors were registered to receive free medical care through the World Trade Center Health Program. Furthermore, in December 2023, the total number of claims submitted to receive the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund was 87.549, out of which the number of Respondent claims was 46.696, and the number of Survivor claims was 39.917.         

The 9/11 Notice Act: why is it important? 

The number of 9/11 Survivors who claimed and benefited from support so far, compared to the estimated number of hundreds of thousands of individuals exposed to toxic and hazardous material at the time of and after the attacks, is alarmingly small. 

The 9/11 Notice Act seeks to enlist and require employers  from both businesses and institutions to notify their former or actual employees who were present or returned to work to the NYC Disaster Zones between September 11, 2001, and the end of May 2002, of their potential eligibility for the Victim Compensation Fund or the WTC Health Program. 

The Act is crucial for identifying the forgotten victims and survivors of 9/11, many of whom might suffer from terrible illnesses or other personal losses and might not even be aware of the existing support. Following the attacks, many who lived, worked, or attended school in the NYC exposure areas were encouraged to quickly return while their health was unknowingly placed at risk. More than 5.890 people have died since the attacks due to the toxins in the air. That is almost double that of those who died on September 11, 2001. However, the legacy of 9/11 is still with us, knowing that serious illnesses, such as lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure, could develop decades after the impact, making the 9/11 Notice Act even more timely.   


About the Author

Jonathan Sharp is a Chief Financial Officer at Environmental Litigation Group, P.C., responsible for case evaluation and financial analysis. The Environmental Litigation Group, based in Birmingham, Alabama, is a law firm that works with victims of toxic exposure. 


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