NEW YORK – The flood of people coming down with illnesses stemming from the toxic dust kicked up by the 9/11 terror attacks has been so great that the $7.3 billion dedicated to sufferers could run out before everyone has been helped, the Daily News has learned.
The 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, which is responsible for providing financial assistance to those suffering from illnesses caused by ground zero contaminants, is showing signs of strain.
“We do periodic assessments of our data,” VCF Special Master Rupa Bhattacharyya said. The assessments, she said, create projections that will determine whether the fund will be able to help everyone before it expires on Dec. 18, 2020. “Looking at the data more recently, I’m starting to get a little concerned,” she said.
She said the VCF plans to publish its projections in the next few weeks.
Survivor advocates are concerned that, as the money peters out, those who file for compensation now will get less money than those who filed earlier with the same problems.
“I’m pretty confident that they will run out of money,” said 9/11 advocate John Feal. “But I don’t think people should be concerned right now. I bet my one kidney that we will get the VCF extended.”
Sources with knowledge of the VCF said that a bill to extend the fund could be brought to Congress as early as next month. A source said the VCF has more than $3 billion in funding left to distribute, so any concerns are not imminent.
Through Aug. 31, the VCF has reviewed 38,502 claims from 9/11 illness sufferers this year — a nearly 28 percent jump over the claims over the same period last year. Of the 38,502, about 20,000 claims have been approved with payouts that can range up to $200,000, depending on the illness.
The VCF has also seen a 94 percent jump in “deceased claims” — requests for compensation by estates or family members of a 9/11 survivor who has succumbed to illness. As of the end of August, 720 families have sought some form of financial compensation this year compared with 371 families last year.
And these numbers could rise, Bhattacharyya said. “There are diseases with long latency periods,” she said. “Mesothelioma is one that is talked about often, and you won’t even see it for 15 or 20 years.”
According to the website Asbestos.com, an estimated 400 tons of asbestos — the microscopic fibers that cause mesothelioma — was used in the construction of the World Trade Center. All of it was released into the air when the buildings were pulverized into dust.