AN IRISH-AMERICAN family is among thousands campaigning for recognition for loved ones already dead or dying from ailments believed to be linked to their work at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Philip Rooney (41), whose mother Mary is from Donegal, and whose father Patrick is from Dublin, died of acute myeloid leukaemia in March 2007 after battling the devastating illness for three years.
The father-of-three and master carpenter with the New York City Department of Transport, was one of thousands of workers dispatched to Manhattan after the collapse of the World Trade Centre towers almost seven years ago in which over 3,000 people perished.
But since then thousands of the so-called first responders -- many of whom are Irish American -- who clocked up hundreds of hours in the toxic environment of the site -- have been reporting respiratory problems and cancers and the death toll is mounting.
Despite growing medical evidence, the New York city health department has yet to acknowledge a link between the work at Ground Zero and the thousands who are ill.
"It has been New York's dirty little secret. The reality is that they want to sweep this under the rug, but the world needs to know," Philip's sister Linda told the Irish Independent.
In the weeks that followed the attacks, Philip worked in excess of 300 hours at the site wearing only a paper mask and unaware of the impact of the burning jet fuel and other toxic debris.
In the autumn of 2003 he began to feel ill and the following February he was diagnosed with leukaemia and began aggressive treatment. But despite a bone marrow transplant, his condition continued to deteriorate.
His claim for disability pension, amounting to three-quarters of his salary, was denied and on the day he died, his health insurance cover for his three young children was cancelled.
Linda is a member of the FealGood Foundation, an advocacy group for sick September 11 responders, named after its founder, John Feal, another first responder.
"My brother went to his grave without peace of mind that his family would be cared for and this is disgraceful in what is meant to be the greatest country in the world.
"He never wanted a settlement of millions of dollars. All he ever wanted was what he believed he deserved.
"Now I am his voice and my family wants to see him get the acknowledgement he deserved. His children deserve what he would have provided for them if he was still alive," she told the Irish Independent.
Philip's mother, Mary, who moved to New York from Donegal 44 years ago, said that the pain of her son's loss was enormous.
"We just miss him so much. It's devastating," she said.