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Federal officials may permit compensation for 9/11-related cancer

This week, people throughout North Carolina and the rest of the country will once again mark the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Over a decade after the horrifying events, many who were at Ground Zero are still reeling from the effects of that day.

In addition to those who died the day of the attacks, thousands more are experiencing health problems as a result of exposure to numerous toxic substances, particularly the first responders who bravely rushed into the World Trade Center buildings. As a result, many may be seeking benefits, similar to workers' compensation.

In light of numerous workers who contracted serious illnesses as a result of chemical exposure, the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was passed to create a fund for those impacted. Cancer may now be added to the list of covered illnesses, as there is now convincing evidence linking cancer diagnoses to the attacks.

The smoke and dust from the World Trade Center fires and collapses contained a number of chemicals that are known for causing cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. Some of the harmful substances present include "particles of glass, asbestos, cement, lead, gypsum, calcium carbonate" and other heavy metals.

Already, the chemical fumes and dust have been known to cause asthma, gastrointestinal problems and neurological issues. As many as 20,000 workers are already being treated and compensated for their workplace illnesses. The hope is that those who acted bravely in the line of duty will be compensated appropriately for their ongoing troubles.

This story serves as a reminder of the unintended consequences of a workplace accident. Though a person may not show outward signs of health problems in the immediate wake of a workplace fire or chemical spill, they may experience the painful -- even fatal -- effects years down the road. That's why it is important for all North Carolina workers to be aware of their rights in the event that a work-related illness necessitates workers' compensation benefits.

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