February 14, 2007

The unending bid for help

BY GRAHAM RAYMAN For retired fire Capt. Gerald Snell, it is irrelevant whether Cesar Borja worked soon after the Sept. 11 attacks or much later. Snell, of Long Beach, said he worked at or near Ground Zero from day one, and spent more than 60 days there during the next eight months. He said he has been diagnosed with 30 percent lung capacity, and has four nodules on his lungs that must be monitored every six months. Borja worked traffic and security posts on the streets around Ground Zero for 17 days three months after the towers fell, a report yesterday in The New York Times said. However, his family said yesterday that the officer and his colleagues told them he worked at the site for five or six months. They were unable to provide documentation to back up the statement. Borja, 52, died of pulmonary fibrosis, or scarring of the lungs, last month. "I don't think it hurts the cause," said Snell, 54, who is pursuing a discrimination complaint against the New York City Fire Department, claiming it forced his retirement. "Anyone who gets on the front page is going to be scrutinized, but you also had [the top environmental official] telling everyone the air was safe. So to me, wherever this guy was standing, he was screwed. " Advocates around the issue insisted yesterday that the disclosure would not damage their efforts. "It shows that here's a man who never worked on the pile, and he still ingested enough crap that he suffered the extent of damages that he did," said John Sferazo, an ironworker and founder of Unsung Heroes Helping Heroes. "That, to me, is even more of an outrage. " Others argued that conditions around Ground Zero in December, when Borja first worked a documented shift, were still bad enough to support the claim that his illness was related. "December was still a dangerous month, and the toxins and the smoke didn't just stop at the immediate boundary line of the WTC site," said Joel Kupferman, an environmental lawyer. Police union President Patrick Lynch pointed out that even with just 17 days downtown, Borja still would have qualified under the 40-hour minimum required under the state 9/11 disability law. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who helped bring Borja's son Ceasar Borja Jr. to national prominence, issued a statement on her advocacy for 9/11 responders but did not comment on the revelation involving Borja. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) cited statements in a report published by the Mount Sinai medical monitoring program, which found that air levels of certain contaminants remained elevated well into 2002. "Cesar Borja worked around Ground Zero while toxins were in the air, he came down with an illness that can be caused by toxic dust and he is now deceased," she said. "Nothing about the timeline of Cesar Borja's work at Ground Zero changes those tragic facts." Building your claim How to prove you worked at Ground Zero and got sick: Hope your agency or company kept some kind of record that you worked there. In those first frenzied weeks, this often was not the case. Gather every scrap of paper or electronic documents that you can to prove you were there, including memo books, time cards, pay receipts, photos, letters, e-mails and ID cards. Obtain statements from co-workers and people near you at the site who would be willing to testify that you were there. Track down all medical records. Sign up on the city's World Trade Center Health Registry, run by the Department of Health. More than 71,000 have registered. Get an appointment for an evaluation in the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program, run by Mount Sinai and other hospitals. It still may be difficult to prove that the ailment is related to work at Ground Zero. For example, Cesar Borja's disease, pulmonary fibrosis, has a longer latency period than most diseases and can occur without an obvious cause, environmental health experts said. "You have to look at the person's history," said David Worby, an attorney representing 9,000 claimants. "Whether he smoked, what his work history was, how long he was there. It's a painstaking process."