Page last updated at 00:04 GMT, Saturday, 13 March 2010

New York dust victims split on 9/11 deal

Rescue teams at the ruins of the Twin Towers
The dust contained toxic particles that many claim made them ill

After New York City officials agree to compensate thousands of workers who say they were made sick by the dust of 9/11, the BBC's Laura Trevelyan finds that not all rescue workers approve of the deal.

On a cold and rainy day at Ground Zero, Michael McCormack is sounding wheezy.

He was a specialist search and rescue worker who arrived here just hours after the 9/11 attacks.

Michael McCormack
Michael McCormack says the compensation deal is a "sham"

Now he has respiratory disease and post traumatic stress disorder and lives on $1,600 (£1,000) a month, compared to the $90,000 a year he used to make.

He has trouble paying his prescription bills.

Mr McCormack is one of the 10,000 rescue and recovery workers who are suing New York City because of the health problems they developed after toiling on what became known as the pile - the smouldering remains of the World Trade Center.

The protective gear he received was, he says, too little, too late.

Mr McCormack denounces the settlement which has been reached between the workers' lawyers and the World Trade Center Captive Insurance Company representing New York City as "a total sham".

He is concerned about how much of the $657m (£437m) on offer will go on lawyers' fees.

And he fears that there isn't enough money to pay for the healthcare costs of all the rescue and recovery workers.

"I am disgusted with the way that the country has handled this," Mr McCormack told me.

"I wholeheartedly believe that I've shaved 10-15 years off my life, and my quality of life has gotten worse every single year since September 11th."

Decision deadline

Other rescue workers have been more positive about the deal.

Martin Fullam, a retired New York City fire lieutenant, told AP news agency the deal was good and he would probably sign.

But 95% of those who are suing must agree to the settlement or the deal is off.

The Ground Zero first responders have three months to decide whether or not to agree to what is on offer.

Marc Burn
Lawyer Marc Burn says the negotiations have been long and hard

Marc Burn, the lawyer who negotiated the deal on behalf of thousands of rescue workers, told the BBC it represented finality for those who have suffered so much.

"It is an excellent settlement," he said.

"We are gratified that after six long, hard years of very contentious litigation, very contentious negotiations, we've been able to arrive at a dollar figure that we believe will fairly and justly compensate all 10,000 victims."

Mr Burn says his clients are relieved that the end is in sight.

The next stage is for US district judge Alvin Hellerstein to decide whether he approves the settlement.

He is holding another hearing on 19 March.

Years of emotionally and politically fraught wrangling over who should compensate the rescue workers for their health problems may be drawing to a close.

But with 10,000 people involved in the legal action, it's going to be a complicated decision.

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