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Zadroga Act altered to cover cancer cost

The expanded Zadroga Act covers cancer sufferers sickened during the cleanup at Ground Zero to be covered. AP Photo/Stan Honda
TimesLedger Newspapers

Many Queens residents had loved ones who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and some know people who continue to die from the complications of that fateful day.

Eleven years after tragedy shook the city on 9/11, the federal government has expanded health coverage to assist more first responders who emerged as heroes during the cleanup at Ground Zero in the weeks and months that followed the attacks.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health added 50 types of cancer to the list of World Trade Center-related illnesses covered by the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act Monday in a move that netted compensation for thousands of sick rescue and recovery workers.

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) knows all too well about the health problems faced by heroic first responders. Her cousin, Stephen Johnson of Maspeth, was a firefighter involved in the rescue operations at the World Trade Center.

He died from black lung disease in August 2006.

“This week we remember first responders who made the ultimate sacrifice, but we must also remember those who spent countless hours in rescue and recovery efforts that came home and suffered from serious health problems because of it,” said Crowley. “Covering the cancers caused from 9/11 in the Zadroga Act ensures our heroes get the health-care coverage they deserve after they gave so much for our city and nation.”

The ruling adopts the Science/Technical Advisory Committee’s recommendations to add 14 categories of cancer, including those affecting the respiratory and digestive systems. The committee is a government agency charged with reviewing scientific and medical evidence linking cancer to the recovery effort.

U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y) released a joint statement lauding the decision.

“We fought long and hard to make sure that our 9/11 heroes suffering from cancers obtained from their work at Ground Zero get the help they deserve,” Gillibrand and Schumer said. “We will press on — with advocates, the community and our partners in government — to ensure that all those who suffered harm from 9/11 and its aftermath get the access to the program they so desperately need.”

The $4.3 billion act, named for NYPD Detective James Zadroga, who died in 2006 from a respiratory illness attributed to his work at Ground Zero, was signed into law by President Barack Obama in January 2010.

Under the law, $2.8 billion was set aside to compensate those made ill by toxins at the site and another $1.5 billion was allocated over five years to fund the World Trade Center Health Program.

But the bill’s benefits did not initially cover cancer patients because health officials could not find scientific evidence supporting a link between the deadly disease and the toxic dust released in the collapse of the Twin Towers.

There is some fear that not everyone in need of coverage and compensation will receive help. John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, an advocacy group for 9/11 first responders and their families, said there is a finite amount of money and the act is set to expire in 2016.

“The addition of cancer for coverage under Zadroga is a huge victory for the 9/11 community,” he said. “We must now go back to Congress and get the Zadroga Act extended and additionally funded so that all first responders are medically treated and compensated adequately.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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