Toxic torts at ground zero

Of all the injuries from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, legal analysts have accorded the least attention to the health effects of exposure to toxic substances by workers, residents, and other community members in the vicinity of Ground Zero. Although the health issue was raised with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the immediate post-September 11 period, EPA showed surprisingly little concern for the potential health threats. In the years that followed, health studies have confirmed, however, that the fears of widespread contamination of the environment in and around Ground Zero were in fact warranted. In the aftermath of the attacks, Congress enacted legislation that included a Victim Compensation Fund. The Fund was unavailable for the vast majority of persons exposed to the toxic substances in the WTC dust, however. Instead, these persons face an uncertain future in the tort system, much like other toxic tort claimants. There is now mounting evidence that the toxic collateral effects of the World Trade Center attacks have the potential for creating a legal - as well as human - cataclysm well into the future. This article is the first truly comprehensive examination of the difficult medical and legal issues that confront the Ground Zero toxic exposure claimants. I conclude that while the tort system is the best mechanism for resolution of the Ground Zero toxic exposure claims, it is far from perfect, and that lawmakers must give serious consideration to developing a discrete and workable management plan for toxic claims in the future.
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