Eight Years After 9/11, Ground Zero Volunteer Dying of Lung Disease is One of Many Still Fighting for Justice

September 11/2009

Today marks the eighth anniversary of 9/11, with vigils being held to remember the nearly 3,000 people killed in the attacks. We look at a group of victims that are often forgotten in the September 11 narrative: the thousands of rescue workers who became sick after being exposed to contaminants at Ground Zero. Hundreds have died. We speak to Joe Picurro, a New Jersey ironworker who worked as a volunteer on the pile for twenty-eight days. He is now dying of lung disease. We also speak with Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), who is co-sponsoring the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, and Dr. Jacqueline Moline, director of the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Vigils will be held today at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania to remember the nearly 3,000 people killed eight years ago in the September 11th attacks. In New York, moments of silence will be observed at Ground Zero to mark the time when the hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center and to mark when the towers fell. A reading of the victims' names will also be held at Ground Zero.

Today on Democracy Now! we look at a group of victims that are often forgotten in the September 11th narrative: the many rescue workers who have since become sick after being exposed to contaminants at Ground Zero. In a few minutes we'll be joined by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York. She's the sponsor of the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which would provide permanent health treatment and compensation for all 9/11 Ground Zero workers and residents who become sick from their exposures to contaminants. But first, we want to turn to the story of Joe Picurro, an iron worker from New Jersey.

AMY GOODMAN: Joe Picurro was one of thousands of men and women who showed up at Ground Zero on September 11th to help with the rescue and recovery efforts. He was thirty-four years old at the time.

Now Joe is dying. His doctor has told him he has the lungs of a ninety-five-year-old. His lungs are so inflamed from all the tiny particles of glass and even human bone fragments lodged in them that every breath produces excruciating pain. He's been unable to work for the last five years and takes thirty-seven different medicines.

Juan, you wrote about Joe Picurro in this week's New York Daily News column that was called "Time to Rescue Our 9/11 Heroes Ill from Ground Zero Cleanup." Joe is joining us now from New Jersey. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. And Joe, tell us some of the story, first how you got to Ground Zero and then what were the effects, how long it took for you to realize how sick you were.

JOE PICURRO: Well, I left for --around midnight I left my house. And, you know, I watched like everybody else; on the TV, I watched the towers go down. And I have policemen and firemen in my family, and I knew the kind of equipment they carried, and I knew they didn't have the kind of equipment to cut that steel. So I grabbed some of my tools, and I jumped in my car, and I went up there. You know, I walked into --

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