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9/11 Health and Compensation Act and Public Employees

Posted by Lee Clarke, Director, Safety and Health District Council 37, AFSCME and 9/11 Health Watch Board Member | February 26, 2013

The passage of the James Zadroga Act has been essential for the health and well-being of public sector workers affected by 9/11. Despite the fact that over 11 years have passed since the terrorist attacks, many individuals have yet to learn about the World Trade Center Health Program and the care it provides for responders, volunteers, and survivors. Equipped with funding designated by the Zadroga Act, advocacy and support groups can now finally perform intensive and much-needed outreach to affected communities.

On September 11, 2001 and the days and months that followed, AFSCME District Council 37 (DC 37) members and former employees performed essential rescue, recovery, and clean-up duties. As public employees, DC 37 workers were involved as EMTs, transportation workers, perimeter security, residential building escorts, morgue technicians, water system workers, structural engineers, and multiple other positions contributing to the restoration of the World Trade Center Towers site. Our members were also part of the “bucket brigade,” a line of workers transporting buckets of debris from the pile to clear out the area for recovery efforts. Exposed to various toxic substances released in the disaster area, many of our members did not have the proper personal protection equipment.  In addition, since the WTC complex was situated in the financial center of NYC and in the heart of city government, DC 37 members and other public sector workers were dispatched to their office buildings to recover necessary business documents and equipment to keep city government running. Some returned to these offices within days only to find out the buildings were not properly decontaminated. Today, many of these workers are ill, and some who were asymptomatic are now dealing with the manifestation of those hazardous exposures.

DC 37 members and employees were early voices advocating for health treatment and monitoring for responders, workers, volunteers, and residents affected by 9/11. We fought to make sure individuals were given accurate information, guidance, and care. When it became clear that rescue and recovery workers would need specialized medical care, DC 37 was one of the leading organizations working with the already existing New York State Occupational Health Clinic Network to ensure that workers received the best care possible. We have served on the steering committee of the WTC Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program since its inception.

After years of struggling for adequate medical care for affected workers, many individuals have yet to avail themselves of the vital services offered by the World Trade Center Health Program.  This is mainly due to lack of information and education on the topic. The DC 37 Safety and Health Department staff regularly receives phone calls from members who are suffering from WTC-related conditions asking for assistance. Despite the years since the terrorist attacks and the subsequent outreach efforts by DC 37, many of our members and retirees are still not aware of the existence of a program specifically established to screen, monitor, and treat 9/11 responders and survivors.

With the Zadroga Act and its related outreach and research programs, advocates can attempt to close the gaps that exist around WTC-related healthcare. Affected individuals both need and deserve these essential physical and mental health services. We aim to increase utilization of the World Trade Center Health Program’s services, both in New York and nationwide, and create clear, effective education tools to reach communities unaware of the program.


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