Federal health officials have ruled that 50 different types of cancer can now be covered by the Zadroga Act of 2011, under which a $4.3 billion fund was established to compensate those exposed to the toxic fumes, smoke and dust after the attackson the World Trader Center of September 11, 2001. In addition to rescue workers, the ruling enables volunteers, residents, schoolchildren and passers-by to apply for funds for treatment for cancers developed after the attacks.
Previously, the act had only covered respiratory illnesses linked to exposure from the aftermath of 9/11. The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was named for a police officer who died at the age of 34 after working at Ground Zero.
Cancer was not covered originally under the fund because of a lack of scientific evidence. Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, himself had said in 2011 that there was insufficient medical evidence linking cancer to exposure from the 9/11 attacks. In his report explaining the agency’s turnaround, he highlighted a New York Fire Department study published last fall in the British medical journey The Lancet, which described a 19 percent higher cancer rate in firefighters.
The new ruling also applies to Pentagon and Shanksville, PA, responders.
Epidemiologists and oncologists still note that there is a “current absence of evidence” linking exposure from the 9/11 attacks to cancer. The broadening of the illnesses that can be covered under the Zadroga Fund also reduces the number of funds available for those with respiratory illnesses and creates some logistical challenges, as it is not easy to distinguish between those got cancer from exposure to ground zero vs. those who would have developed cancer otherwise.
Nonetheless, as the New York Daily News quoted Ground Zero activist John Feal, who pushed for the creation of the Zadroga Act:
“We’re making sure the people who did something heroic a decade ago will get the medical treatment they deserve and not have to choose between paying the mortgage and getting chemo treatment.”
Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and one of the primary sponsors of the 2010 legislation that created the fund, echoed his words: “I think it’s an important statement that the country’s going to take care of the workers and people who are there to save the lives of the people of the city.”
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