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Cancer Stricken Ground Zero Workers Still Waiting for Zadroga Act Decision

Jun 7, 2012 | Parker Waichman LLP

A decision on whether or not the Zadroga Act will cover cancer has been put off due to what has been characterized as a “bureaucratic" delay.  According to a report from The New York Times, Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), won't announce his decision on Zadroga Act cancer coverage until later this week or next.

Hundreds of Ground Zero first responders and others in the vicinity believe they were stricken with cancer because of  exposure to toxic dust at the World Trade Center site in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  In the past year, two studies have provided compelling evidence to back up their claims.  This past March, a large study conducted by the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine involving 20,000 firefighters, police officers,  sanitation workers, construction workers and others who assisted in Ground Zero rescue and recovery activities found a 14 percent increase in cancer rates among responders.  Last summer, a Lancet study of New York City firefighters found a 19% increase in cancer overall in those who responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Cancer was not originally included as a covered illness under the Zadroga Act when it was passed in December 2010.  But in March, the World Trade Center Health Program Scientific/Technical Advisory Committee recommended that cancers of the respiratory and digestive system, along with thyroid cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, eye cancer, oral cavity cancer, urinary tract cancer, mesothelioma, melanoma, leukemia, lymphoma, soft tissue sarcomas and all childhood and rare cancers, be deemed covered illnesses.   

According to The New York Times, Howard was supposed to make a decision on cancer coverage by last Saturday.  But reviews by the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human Services prior to its release have pushed the announcement back by at least several days.  A spokesperson for NIOSH also told the Times that before any form of cancer can be added to the list of covered illnesses, Howard must get an estimate from the Office of Management and Budget as to how much that decision would cost the government.

Sickened Ground Zero workers and their advocates are anxious for Howard to include cancer on the list of Zadroga Act illnesses this time around.  According to the Times, a more Republican balance of power after the next election might make it more difficult to add new covered illnesses to the Zadroga Act, or to or renew the fund.

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