ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — After the 9/11 attack 20 years ago, anyone on or near Ground Zero up to eight months after was exposed to debris like glass particles, mercury and asbestos. That exposure is now putting them at risk for things like lung disease, and almost seventy different types of cancer. This, all according to Michael Barasch-McGarry of Lawyers for the 9/11 Community.

Some first responders on Ground Zero live right here in Rochester, and are now dealing with fear of getting COVID-19 on top of already-existing health problems linked to that day. William Hucks is one of them.

Hucks worked for the National Guard and was deployed to Ground Zero a week after the towers were hit. His duty was to transport people off those streets, get them to shelter or medical support. He recalls streets being filled with panic and terror – memories that will stick with him forever.

“The sight of it, the smell, the dust, the fumes, people were just in total shock I was in shock,” he said. “It was in total mayhem, total confusion.”

Today, he’s dealing with severe respiratory issues linked back to his work on Ground Zero. Hucks is on oxygen and suffers from a chronic respiratory illness called Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This past year – it’s been in and out of the hospital due to exacerbations.

“I’m making it, I’m dealing with it,” he said.

Barasch-McGarry is managing partner for a law firm, Lawyers for the 9/11 Community, that helps people like Hucks get compensation and free health care for their side effects. Many of those people, are Rochester residents. Barasch-McGarry says every day, at least one of his clients passes away from Ground Zero-caused complications.

“They were all exposed to horrible carcinogens, such as benzine, chromium, lead, and there’s now a presumption that 68 cancers are caused by that toxic exposure and a lot of respiratory illness,” he said.

“I represented a NYC police detective, and he died at age 34 of pulmonary fibrosis. They did an autopsy, and in his lung tissue they found ground glass, chromium, lead, mercury. This was the evidence we needed, to link all these respiratory illness and now 68 cancers,” he said.

That brings us to today, with COVID-19 spreading all over the country, attacking the respiratory system. Many of these first responders, like Hucks, are at-risk and fearful.

“They are literally scared to death,” said Barasch-McGarry.

For Hucks, he’s been laying low and staying at home with his five children to prevent exposure. All he can do now is urge the community to consider his story when they make decisions that could put others at risk.

“Put that mask on, wash your hands, do what you have to do stay six feet apart,” he said.

“Congress extended permanently, the free health program and victim compensation fund. They work half and half, but only 5% of people outside of NYC have signed up and there are clinics all over New York State. I urge everyone who was down at Ground Zero, even if you are healthy now, register. Someday in the next 50 years you may get cancer,” said Barasch-McGarry.