On the eve of the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, federal health officials finally acknowledged a link between toxic Ground Zero dust and cancer. Late yesterday, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) announced that more than 50 different types of cancers will now be covered under the Zadroga Act. The decision will allow financially strapped Ground Zero first responders who’ve since developed cancer to access funds to cover their soaring healthcare costs.
Advocates for sickened Ground Zero workers were obviously cheered by the announcement.
“While we had faith this day would eventually come, the fact that this announcement comes on the eve of September 11th is not lost on anyone,” said Matthew J. McCauley, lead attorney in the WTC/Zadroga group at Parker Waichman LLP and a former NYPD Officer and WTC First Responder. “Today, tomorrow and for the rest of our lives, we will honor our 9/11 Heroes and continue to stand by them and their families for the ultimate sacrifices they have made.”
Activists who pushed for expansion of the Zadroga Act to cover cancer estimate that some 400 people have already died from 9/11-related cancers, according to the Daily News.
Passed in December 2010, the Zadroga Act reopened the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund for five years to provide payment for job and economic losses for first responders, those trapped in the buildings, and local residents, who suffered illness or injuries related to the toxic dust. Just last summer, Dr. John Howard, director of NIOSH, had declined to list any form of cancer as a Zadroga Act covered illness, citing a lack of hard scientific evidence linking toxic dust at Ground Zero to development of the disease. But in the past year, a number of studies have provided compelling evidence of an association between Ground Zero toxic dust and a number of cancers.
A turning point came in March, when 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. In June, NIOSH said it favored an expansion of the Zadroga Act to cover more than 50 cancers. Since then, 9/11 first responders and their advocates have anxiously awaited the issuance of a final rule from NIOSH. Yesterday, their wait came to an end.
“The publication of this final rule marks an important step in the effort to provide needed treatment and care to 9/11 responders and survivors through the WTC Health Program,” Howard said in a statement Monday.
According to a report from CNN, the final rule is expected to be published in the federal register tomorrow, and will go into effect in 30 days. It is estimated that between 950 and 2,150 people will take advantage of Zadroga Act cancer benefits. The estimated cost for the total cancer treatment ranges between $14.5 million and $33 million, CNN said.
There are some concerns that opening the Zadroga Act fund to cancer victims could bankrupt the $4.3 billion fund. But Senator Chuck Schumer, D-NY, told the Daily News that lawmakers had assumed cancer would be included when they passed the Zadroga Act.
“The issue of funding should not affect decisions on the merits, and if the funds end up being insufficient, we will push Congress to provide more funds for all who deserve them,” he said.