Journalists present at ground zero after 9/11 are getting cancer

Two spoke to CNN to tell other victims that compensation and treatment are available. One said that, while getting the story, you don't think that years later, "you're going to end up dying from it."

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November 7, 2019 06:11
4 minute read.
Journalists present at ground zero after 9/11 are getting cancer

Am American flag flies near the base of the destroyed World Trade Center in New York, September 11, 2001. Planes crashed into each of the two towers, causing them to collapse. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Journalists who covered the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, after breathing in dust and debris from the fallen Twin Towers for years, have contracted cancer – and spoke to CNN Business to let other journalists know that compensation is available for those affected.

Bruce David Martin, a former news operation manager and photojournalist for WWOR-TV, and Vincent Novak, formerly of NBC, are attempting to inform journalists that the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund and the World Trade Center Health Program are available for media personnel who covered the 9/11 attacks.

“As a journalist, the main motive is just to get the story, get those pictures – never thinking [that] years later, you’re going to end up dying from it,” Martin told CNN. Novak added: “We had a job to do.”

Michael Barasch, a managing partner at the Barasch & McGarry law firm, serves survivors of the 9/11 attacks and currently also represents 53 journalists in their endeavors to receive compensation from the fund.

“I hesitated contacting the fund, because we weren’t there to save lives,” Novak said. “But the media did do a service, by showing the actuality of the events, and that there were no more attacks. We helped the public to cope.”

However, according to Barasch, media personnel are considered first responders, since they were at ground zero along with firefighters and police officers attempting to save survivors from the carnage.



“They were breathing the same toxic dust as the New York City firefighters and cops,” Barasch said, adding that thousands of journalists worldwide should know that the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund and the World Trade Center Health Program are there to assist them if they ever need it. However, time is a factor.

“The challenge is proving you were there... every day, witnesses are dying,” Barasch told CNN.

IN JUNE of this year, Jon Stewart, the popular former host of the late-night comedy program The Daily Show, criticized members of Congress for not attending a hearing on Tuesday about renewing funding for a program that provides health care to first responders who were sickened when responding to the September 11 attacks. Due to his efforts and the lobbying of 9/11 survivors, the Victim Compensation Fund was extended through 2090.

“Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak and no one” of the congress members showed up, Stewart said, pointing to a mostly empty dais. “Shameful – it’s an embarrassment to the country and a stain on this institution. You should be ashamed of yourselves for those who aren’t here. But you won’t be, because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.”

“Where are they? It would be one thing if their callous indifference and rank hypocrisy was benign, but it’s not,” Stewart said. “Their indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity: time – one thing they’re running out of.”

The fund, originally approved for five years in 2010, provides medical treatment for emergency responders sickened by toxic dust inhaled at the World Trade Center site in New York in the days following the attack.

“I’m pretty sure what’s going to happen five years from now, [is that] more of these men and women are going to get sick, and they are going to die – and I am awfully tired of hearing that it’s a 9/11 New York issue,” Stewart said. “Al-Qaeda didn’t shout death to Tribeca.” He was referring to the area immediately northeast of Ground Zero, so called because it is approximately the “TRI-angle BE-low CA-nal Street.”



Novak, who has prostate cancer, recently completed the process of gaining assistance from the fund – which took about a year and a half to complete.

"Without my telling the doctor I had been at ground zero, in 2016 he told me the first cancer cell probably showed up 15 years earlier, which would be 2001. I found that pretty amazing," Novak told CNN, adding that his cancer is contained at the moment.

Martin, who lived in the West Village of New York at the time of the attacks, contracted liposarcoma in 2008, a rare variation of cancer, after doctors discovered a tumor in his abdomen.

"I did interviews and eventually found myself walking into the white dust," Martin told CNN's Reliable Sources. "At that point, you're just not thinking about it and what's going to happen later. I'm inoperable right now. So pretty much just living my life."



There is no data pointing to how many journalists might have been affected or even died as a direct cause of the dust and debris from the Twin Towers.

Novak recalled being told by the first responders that, "the air was okay even though it looked bad, smelled bad and tasted bad. You could taste the metallic taste of the dust. We were breathing that air in for a couple of weeks."

The interview concluded with Novak notifying members of the media that they should not feel ashamed for requesting help just because they were not directly saving lives in the same manner of the first responders.

"[Many members of the media] feel guilty doing so because you're not a cop or a fireman... but as people were leaving the area, we were going in, so I think they should take advantage of the compensation they deserve," he said. "All I was thinking about was getting the shot. Journalists head toward the news story and that's what I did that day – that was my instinct. I never thought I should be running away."

Reuters and Natan Rothstein contributed to this report.





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