NEW YORK — There is no doubt that Richard Volpe is sick, and no doubt that the former police detective spent Sept. 11, 2001, breathing in clouds of dust at the World Trade Center.
Yet that is no guarantee that the ex-cop, or many others like him, will qualify for a substantial share of the $2.78 billion Congress has set to compensate people who fell ill after being exposed to ground zero toxins.
Like thousands of other rescue and recovery workers, Volpe suffers from an ailment that is not expressly covered by the law. Only a few diseases were singled out by name in the act, including asthma, certain types of lung disease and a handful of other respiratory ailments. They were included because research has suggested there is a link between those illnesses and the tons of caustic dust that blanketed lower Manhattan after the twin towers collapsed.
Federal administrators still have to decide whether to cover other conditions, like cancer, where there is less hard evidence of a tie to ground zero toxins.
The task of deciding who qualifies for compensation, and who doesn't, will eventually fall the program's special master, who has yet to be appointed. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer has already suggested the job should go to Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer who oversaw the original compensation fund for 9/11 victims.
This administrator will have discretion over the cash payments that are to be distributed to people sickened by the dust, but will probably be guided by rules created over the next few months by the Justice Department and Department of Health and Human Services.
More than 55,000 people who either worked at the trade center site or were exposed to the dust in Lower Manhattan are enrolled in a medical monitoring program. Of those, about 17,000 received some type of medical treatment within the past year, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The people getting care have blamed hundreds of different ailments on trade center toxins, from heart attacks, to skin cancer, to chronic cough.