Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is now covered under the Zadroga Act as an independent injury, meaning that 9/11 victims can file a claim for COPD alone without a prior diagnosis or association with another respiratory condition. Previously, Zadroga benefits only applied for pre-September 11th COPD that was worsened by the attacks.
COPD is a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe. The term “progressive” means that the condition worsens over time, according to the National Institutes of Health. Symptoms of COPD include coughing that produces large amounts of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness. Millions of people in the United States are diagnosed with COPD, it is the third leading cause of death in the country.
In July, the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) issued a final rule concerning new-onset COPD and WTC-related acute traumatic injury, adding these conditions to the list of WTC-Related Health Conditions eligible for treatment coverage in the WTC Health Program. The new rule added new-onset COPD as a covered injury in addition to the existing, related injuries.
The Zadroga Act was initially signed into law in January 2011. It opened the WTC Health Program, which provides medical treatment and monitoring for 9/11 responders and survivors. It also funded the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.
When the towers fell, they released a toxic mix of hazardous chemicals into the air. The debris contained asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls, benzene, dioxin, glass fibers, gypsum, cement particles and heavy metals such as lead. The massive heap of debris, referred to as the Pile, smoldered until mid-December 2001. In the days following the attacks, the Environmental Protection Agency said the air near the pile was safe to breathe.
In the years since, it has become clear that exposure to the toxic dust is linked to a number of illnesses including over 60 different types of cancer, respiratory conditions and more. More than 37,000 people have at least one condition related to 9/11, the WTC Health Program says.