‘You got to be cognizant’: COVID-19 adds health risks to 9/11 first responders, survivors

UNION COUNTY, N.C. — Union County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Castrogiovanni, a former NYPD officer, was at the scene of 9/11.

“I had been looking at those buildings my whole life so to see what happened was just, it’s so surreal,” Castrogiovanni said.

Castrogiovanni worked in and around Ground Zero for about seven weeks and then again during the holiday season that year.

“New Year’s Eve, we found six firefighters where the Marriot was, and one of them was a guy I went to high school with,” Castrogiovanni told Channel 9. “That was the last time I was down there.”

Castrogiovanni is active but later noticed issues with his breathing and got pneumonia twice. He was diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus and lung nodules, among other conditions, as a result of his exposure to toxins at the site.

That’s put him and fellow 9/11 first responders and survivors, many who live in the Charlotte area, at risk for COVID-19 complications.

“COVID-19 has impacted the world on a grand scale, but the most vulnerable are those with underlying respiratory conditions. And the 9/11 community, the most common condition among everybody are respiratory conditions,” said attorney Lee London.


He’s a partner with Barasch & McGarry and a managing attorney for 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Practice.

“We’ve lost over 100 clients so far from COVID-19 complications that have impacted their World Trade Center physical conditions. It is just heartbreaking to see when you have someone with a mild respiratory condition, asthma, and slowly it gets worse and worse. Then it’s pneumonia and then, God forbid, they pass from it. It is just a scary thought,” London told Channel 9. “We want to make sure that people are taking this seriously, especially if you are a survivor or responder. The person next to you could have been a 9/11 first responder. They could have been a teacher, a student.”

He said the 9/11 community especially needs to protect themselves and be aware of the benefits of the World Trade Center Health Program and the Victim Compensation Fund Practice.

Castrogiovanni takes extra precautions every day, and said it’s important that everyone recognize that they never know who could be vulnerable.


“You got to be cognizant,” he said. “It’s not necessarily people that have cancer and things of that nature, there are other people around you that have underlying problems that you’re not aware of, so it’s important to wear your mask.”

Don’t go out when you’re sick, he advised.

“You can’t not care,” Castrogiovanni said. “That’s a reality. You have to think about people outside of yourself.”

He said being a first responder is who he is, and being at-risk won’t stop him.