A lawsuit by a 9/11 watchdog group seeks information on what New...

A lawsuit by a 9/11 watchdog group seeks information on what New York City leaders knew about Ground Zero toxins and when they knew it. Credit: AP/Mark Lennihan

A 9/11 watchdog group has sued New York City for access to records that may reveal what city officials knew of the environmental health risks to Ground Zero first responders and others in the vicinity.

The lawsuit, filed last Thursday by 9/11 Health Watch, names the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and comes after the nonprofit and others requested the records in 2023 but were denied.

Among the questions in the suit: what former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and other city officials knew of “the threat to the health of those exposed” and when they knew it.

The lawsuit specifically requests a memo reported in The New York Times from then-deputy Mayor Robert Harding that said the city could face up to thousands of 9/11-related liability claims. Some include “toxic tort cases,” Harding’s memo is quoted as saying in the publication.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A 9/11 watchdog group has sued New York City for access to records that may reveal what city officials knew of the environmental health risks to Ground Zero first responders.
  • The lawsuit filed by 9/11 Health Watch names the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and comes after the nonprofit and others requested the records in 2023 but were denied.
  • Among the questions in the suit: what former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and other city officials knew of “the threat to the health of those exposed” and when they knew it.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, many first responders and survivors were left with multiple and often fatal health conditions. Thousands of first responders have been diagnosed with 9/11-related cancer, according to the federal government's World Trade Center Health Program.

In September, 9/11 Health Watch filed a records request to get the documents related to Ground Zero toxins.

The city denied the request earlier this year, saying in some instances that the records sought do not exist. A subsequent appeal was also denied.

The lawsuit also seeks a hearing to identify the scope of the city environmental protection department search efforts to comply with the records request. It's also asking for a court order telling the department to provide its anticipated cost to fulfill the Freedom of Information Law request.

“We really need to have [a] true record,” said Benjamin Chevat, director of 9/11 Health Watch. “Did they know, or can they show that they really didn't know?”

“Going forward,” he added, “there could be other things like this, and people need to have confidence in what is said about the safety, and we should know the truth of this.”

In a statement, a city hall spokesperson said: “As a former first responder who worked the site at Ground Zero, Mayor Adams is unwavering in his support of the 9/11 victims, first responders, families, and survivors. We are aware of requests to produce city documents on the aftermath of the attacks, which would require extensive legal review to identify privileged material and liability risk. We will review the lawsuit.”

Troy Rosasco, partner at the Hansen & Rosasco law firm, which represents many families of first responders, said survivors continue to die of related illnesses while records are not being released.

“We should all know the truth, and the families of the first responders need to know the truth, and hopefully that will bring some closure to the families,” he said.

John Feal, a demolition supervisor who suffered severe injuries at the site of the World Trade Center, said exposure to harmful chemicals was at Ground Zero around the clock.

"We worked there, we slept there, we ate there, we cried there, we went to the bathroom there,” said the founder of the FealGood Foundation, a Nesconset-based nonprofit that champions first responders. “We were exposed to these toxins 24/7.”

Feal agreed with calls to release the records sought in the lawsuit.

“We're a finite number,” he said of his fellow 9/11 first responders. “We're getting smaller, and the mayor of New York City needs to do the right thing.”

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