September 11th 2001, was one of the most horrible days in our country’s history for many reasons, not all of which became apparent immediately. In addition to the initial wreck and devastation, loss of life and tragedy that ensued that fateful morning, an enduring health issue also presented itself that day. When the planes crashed into New York City’s World Trade Center, a cloud of toxic dust settled over the city. Survivors, relief workers and bystanders alike found themselves exposed to a number of hazardous chemicals that day, asbestos chief among them. This dangerous mineral fiber has been used for a variety of purposes throughout history, but is now a banned substance following the discovery that prolonged exposure can lead to fatal diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma, a particularly deadly form of cancer that invades the protective lining of the lungs, heart, chest and abdomen.
Post-9/11, the Chief Medical Officer of the Bureau of Health Services compiled a report acknowledging that 99% of all responding firefighters have reported at least one respiratory illness related to their work at ground zero. Studies also show an increase in respiratory issues among New York residents since the attacks. In response to these complaints, the US government has only recently enacted the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Law, providing guaranteed healthcare to those suffering from 9/11 related illnesses.
In theory, the Zadroga bill should provide those suffering from 9/11 related illnesses with free and quality health care at specified “9/11 Health Clinics,” which is no small thing considering the cost of certain treatments. In the case of malignant mesothelioma, treatment can involve several rounds of surgery and chemotherapy or radiation, a costly and time consuming process which often necessitates many days off the job. Under the Zadroga bill, first responders will be compensated for days they miss work due to their illness. However, many fear that they will never get to reap the benefits of the new bill, as the government requires proof that the victim’s cancer was caused by work at ground zero. Because of the difficulty of this task, it is likely that the heroes of 9/11 will never get the help they deserve to cover their growing medical costs.
Last month, the doctor overseeing the program said studies did not show a clear link between cancer and dust at the World Trade Center, making it extremely unlikely that cancer treatment coverage will be included in upcoming revisions to the bill. However, the original authors of the Zadroga Bill are pushing to expand coverage to include mesothelioma and other cancer patients. Although first responders with cancer cannot currently benefit from the bill, lawmakers hope this policy will soon be changed in light of new research.