NEW YORK - (AP) - More than 95 percent of workers who sued afterbeing exposed to the toxic dust that blanketed Lower Manhattanafter the World Trade Center fell have joined a legal settlementthat will pay more than 10,000 of them hundreds of millions ofdollars, officials announced Friday.

The overwhelming acceptance of the deal will mean an end to thebulk of litigation over New York City's failure to provideprotective equipment to the army of construction workers, policeofficers and firefighters who spent months clearing and siftingrubble after Sept. 11.

Thousands sued, claiming that the ash and soot at the site gotinto their lungs and made them sick. Only 520 of the 10,563eligible plaintiffs declined to take the offer.

"This settlement is a fair and just resolution of these claims,protecting those who came to the aid of this City when we needed itmost," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement.Paul Napoli, a senior partner with the law firm representingmost of the workers, called the settlement "the best result, giventhe uncertainty of protracted litigation."

The settlement, which has been on the table since the spring,won approval by the thinnest of margins. Under terms of the deal,it would only become effective if at least 95 percent of eligibleplaintiffs signed on. It just cleared that hurdle, with 95.1percent.

The settlement will provide at least $625 million to theworkers, although related deals with other defendants, includingthe Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, could boost thattotal to more than $725 million.

Workers could have qualified for an even larger total, topping$800 million, if enough workers had accepted the offer.The deadline to opt in to the deal was Tuesday. The results werewithheld from the media and public for three days while lawyersloaded documents into a computer system and verified the numbers.