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News Wrap: 9/11 Rescue Workers Offered Settlement

March 12, 2010 at 7:42 PM EDT
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In other news Friday, thousands of emergency personnel who suffered health problems because of their work following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks are considering a settlement offer, and the president has delayed his Asia trip to urge lawmakers to finalize health reform legislation.

HARI SREENIVASAN: A federal judge today considered a sweeping settlement for those who worked at the World Trade Center site in New York after 9/11. It amounts to more than $650 million to cover claims of illness caused by exposure to toxic dust and debris.

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has the story.

KWAME HOLMAN: When the towers came down, rescue workers rushed in. They spent weeks scrambling over a hellish landscape. Many said later they fell ill from inhaling dust and smoke from burning chemicals. And, today, some claimed victory with news of the settlement.

GABRIELLE PACINO, Sept. 11 first-responder: It made me so happy.

KWAME HOLMAN: More than 10,000 police, firefighter and construction workers may be eligible to collect part of the $657 million settlement. Individual payments will range from a few thousand dollars to upwards of a million, depending on the injuries involved.

Claimants must submit medical records and prove they were at the World Trade Center site or at other facilities that handled debris. The settlement becomes available only if up 95 percent of those making claims agree to be bound by its terms. A special insurance fund, paid with federal tax dollars, would cover workers who develop cancer in the future.

In his weekly radio show, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called it a good settlement.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, I, mayor of New York: I think it’s fair and reasonable, given the circumstances. And we have been working on this for a long time.

KWAME HOLMAN: Long Island iron worker Jon Sferazo spent about a month at the site. He says he now suffers from a reactive airway disease.

JON SFERAZO, Sept. 11 first-responder: It was very difficult to breathe. Anything you put over your face restricted volume of some kind going into your lungs.

KWAME HOLMAN: Federal officials initially insisted the air was safe.

CHRISTIE TODD WHITMAN, former administrator, Environmental Protection Agency: Everything we have tested for, which includes asbestos, lead, and VOCs, have been below any level of concern for the general public health.

KWAME HOLMAN: But, in short order, the lawsuits began, as hundreds of workers reported falling ill.

GABRIELLE PACINO: I’m 52 years old, and they told me I got lungs of a 90-year-old man.

KWAME HOLMAN: The first cases had been set to go to trial in two months. Workers will have 90 days to decide whether to take the deal.

HARI SREENIVASAN: On Wall Street today, stocks mostly marked time. The Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 12 points to close at 10624. The Nasdaq fell just under a point to close at 2367. For the week, the Dow gained half-a-percent; the Nasdaq rose nearly 2 percent.

President Obama has delayed a trip to Indonesia, Guam and Australia by three days to push health care reform to a final vote. The White House announced today the president will leave on Sunday the 21st, instead of Thursday the 18th.

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, congressional leaders asked the president to put off his departure.

ROBERT GIBBS, White House press secretary: I think everybody believed that him being here was more important. The trip — we didn’t postpone the trip for — for any image sake. This is not done for anything other than a few extra days to work on getting health care reform through the process, as well as keeping that important trip.

HARI SREENIVASAN: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today predicted final passage of the overhaul within days. She suggested Congress might delay its Easter break, scheduled to begin on March 26.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., speaker of the house: We stand ready to stay as long as it takes to pass the bill. I think members are eager to pass a bill. And, again, it won’t be long before we will be making a real difference in lives of the American people.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Pelosi and other House leaders continue trying to round up enough Democratic votes. Republicans are strongly opposed to the bill.

A special federal claims court has ruled a vaccine preservative, thimerosal, doesn’t cause autism. The court said families failed to show any connection. More than 5,500 claims are pending with a federal compensation program. And today’s decision ruling can still be appealed in federal district court. The mercury-based additive has already been removed from most U.S. vaccines.

In Pakistan, the city of Lahore was rocked by explosions today. Two suicide bombers killed at least 43 people in a near simultaneous attack. The target was a group of army vehicles in a part of the city that houses security agencies. It was the fourth major attack in Pakistan this week.

Nearly 60 people are dead in the capital of Somalia, amid the heaviest fighting in more than a year. For three days now, Islamic insurgents have attacked government positions near the presidential palace. The government, with the assistance of African Union troops, plans a major counteroffensive. The mayor of Mogadishu warned residents today to flee the battle zones.