By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Staff from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's office disseminated misinformation about the new 9/11 health law to a group of angry downtown residents at a meeting Monday night.
Gillibrand's staff told Community Board 1 that downtown residents who got sick after 9/11 are not eligible for the new $2.5 billion Victim Compensation Fund.
But in fact, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act does not exclude anyone, and residents, students and office workers, along with rescue and recovery workers, are all welcome to apply for the fund, Rep. Jerrold Nadler's office said Tuesday morning.
"The fund is to be reopened for anyone with a legitimate World Trade Center-related claim," a spokesman for Nadler said in an e-mail. "The Special Master [who will be appointed to oversee the fund] will also have wide latitude."
At Monday night's meeting, local community leaders were outraged when they heard they would not be included in the fund.
"We breathed the same air the responders breathed," said Allan Tannenbaum, who lives several blocks from the World Trade Center site and was covered in debris on 9/11.
"I don’t see why the people who lived here and who were essentially bribed through [federal] rent subsidies to stay here and rebuild — why that community shouldn’t be eligible for compensation as well," Tannenbaum continued.
Rucha Desai, a community liaison with Gillibrand’s office, defended the law, saying it still gives residents free healthcare and medications to treat 9/11-related illnesses even though she said it does not make them eligible for compensation as a result of their illnesses.
The city’s World Trade Center Environmental Health Center, headquartered at Bellevue Hospital, has treated thousands of people in the non-responder community so far, Desai added.
Residents said the purported distinction was unfair, in light of the assurances by many in the state and federal government that downtown Manhattan was safe in the wake of the attacks.
Lower Manhattan was still blanketed in toxic dust, and fires at Ground Zero were still sending up clouds of noxious smoke when then-Environmental Protection Agency head Christine Todd Whitman told residents several days after the attacks that the air in lower Manhattan was "safe to breathe," Tannenbaum said.
Pat Moore, whose Cedar Street apartment overlooks the World Trade Center site, personally shoveled the debris out of her home in the weeks and months that followed 9/11. It took the EPA a year after the attacks to inspect her apartment, and then they told her to leave immediately, saying she and her husband were being exposed to dangerous chemicals, Moore said.
Moore’s husband is now battling pancreatic cancer.
"People who live in the neighborhood should be eligible for compensation," Moore told those assembled Monday night.
Tom Goodkind, a Battery Park City resident and CB1 member, said he knows of many downtown residents who have become unable to work as a result of cancers that may be related to 9/11.
"Is there anything you can do for them?" Goodkind asked Gillibrand’s staff Monday night.
Jon Reinish, special projects manager for Gillibrand, had said he would pass along the request, though as it turned out, the law allows the residents to receive the compensation they are seeking.
Gillibrand's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
For more information about free 9/11-related medical treatment for downtown residents, students and office workers, visit the city’s website or call 1-877-982-0107.