Ground Zero Workers Weigh $657 Million Settlement Offer

BY Ray Suarez  March 12, 2010 at 6:50 PM EST

Thousands of workers who labored at the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan just after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks may be eligible to split up to $657.5 million in settlement money for damage to their health from working in the dust and debris, under an agreement between the plaintiffs’ and city attorneys announced late Thursday.

But the deal is not yet final. Ninety-five percent of the nearly 10,000 plaintiffs in the case must agree to the settlement terms. And federal judge Alvin Hellerstein said after a hearing Friday that he would take a week to review the terms of the settlement, particularly the lawyers’ fees.

New York Daily News reporter Juan Gonzalez, author of the book Fallout: The Environmental Consequences of the World Trade Center Collapse, says there were “major problems” throughout the months-long clean-up and recovery process. The site was a toxic stew of chemicals, but it was also an emotional place for many of the city workers and others who volunteered to work long hours there, some because they had friends or relatives who had perished there.

“The city had to find a proper way to deal with those emotions while at the same time saying ‘hey, we are legally responsible for the health and safety of everyone who is on this site. And that means proper respirators, that means a limited number of hours [...] when you have such a toxic brew it’s better to err on the side of caution,” Gonzalez says. “I think that the city recognizes that and that’s why they did not want to go to court.”

Hear Gonzalez discuss the lawsuit, the settlement terms and what happened around the World Trade Center site in the aftermath of the attacks.

Audio production by Lea Winerman.