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

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September 11/2009
Democracy.org

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 —