NEW YORK, Oct 16 New York City is willing to enter discussions to settle a lawsuit with 9

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NEW YORK, Oct 16 (Reuters) New York City is willing to enter discussions to settle a lawsuit with 9,000 rescue and cleanup workers at the World Trade Center disaster site who may be sick from inhaling toxic dust, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said today.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages from the city in federal court, saying they suffer from respiratory illnesses attributed to breathing toxic ash, dust and other contaminants from the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The city previously has attempted to convince a federal judge to dismiss the suit, though it has the benefit of a $1 billion federal fund established in case the city was found to have liability.

''Every time we are sued we will always take a look and see whether there is a way to come to a settlement in everybody's interests,'' Bloomberg told reporters.

''Plain and simple: We're just going to talk and explore,'' he said.

Bloomberg confirmed a report in the New York Daily News that the city and its contractors had expressed a willingness to enter negotiations.

The Daily News cited a letter a lawyer for the plaintiffs sent to his clients.

''The City of New York and the contractors have indicated that they want to negotiate a global or aggregate settlement on behalf of all our WTC clients,'' reads the letter from lawyer Marc Bern, the Daily News said.

''If we receive an aggregate settlement offer from the defendants, it will be up to you and our other clients to accept or reject the offer and, if you accept it, to agree on how the (money) would be divided,'' Bern wrote. ''The defendants would have nothing to do with that decision.'' Bern told Reuters he had no comment.

''The lawyer for the 9,000 defendants sent out a letter ...

saying that we are going to talk to them, but there is no (dollar) number,'' Bloomberg said. ''There is no reason to think that we can come to a settlement or that we can't.'' The newspaper said victim advocates were skeptical that the 1 billion dollars federal fund would be adequate to cover care for long-term illnesses and to compensate some 150 families that blame the death of a relative on work at Ground Zero.

''If you do the math, it's not that handsome a settlement for the 9/11 responders,'' the newspaper quoted John Feal, a responder and Ground Zero activist, as saying.

REUTERS RSA KN2351

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