Op-Ed: James Zadroga Act at Two Years

On January 2nd it will have been two years since President Obama signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act into law.

Time is not always an ally to those who are fighting cancer and other debilitating diseases caused by exposure to toxins. But the past two years have vindicated those who called for and fought for the Zadroga bill.

The medical monitoring has already begun to produce important information about environmentally caused cancers. The long term monitoring of those in the WTC Health Registry may eventually reveal other valuable insights about environmentally caused cancers. The treatment of those who are sick and injured as a result of the attacks has hopefully begun to help ease the burdens they now carry as a direct result of their courage and service in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.

Last month, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that found among the people enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Registry, there were half-again as many people who had prostate cancer as should be expected, two times as many with thyroid cancer as should be expected, and three times as many people with multiple myeloma as should be expected, compared to the background cancer rates for New York State residents.  The study was in line with earlier findings.

It was further scientific proof of what far too many families already knew from experience: Prolonged exposure to the unique toxic soup at ground zero could take a terrible toll on the human body. It produced what some have called the second wave of victims in a terrorist incident.

This has been a bitter-sweet vindication for some. Especially since the warning signs of health risks began showing up almost immediately after the attacks. Within just 48 hours of the collapse of the towers, about 90 percent of the FDNY firefighters and EMS workers who were evaluated at the WTC site reported having an acute cough.

Somewhere between 250,000 and 400,000 people were immediately exposed to the mixture. But it was without question the first responders and those who worked on “the pile” and at ground zero who were hit the hardest. First responders, rescue workers, construction workers, communications workers and others logged more than 3.7 million work hours at the WTC site over the next 10 months.

The slowness of the process to get the bill passed must have been especially maddening for those who didn’t hesitate for a moment when the alarm sounded on 9-11. The fight over funding for the bill might have seemed cruel and indifferent to those whose courage and devotion to duty cost them their health. But at least that fight is over now.

In the decade long fight I led to get this bill passed, it was my honor to meet many of our 9-11 heroes. On this particular day, and on every day we draw breath; we should remember them and honor what they did for us, when we needed them the most. I hope that today, they can view the Zadroga bill as one small token signifying that America keeps it promises, and we will never forget those few, who did so much, for so many.