9/11 heroes sick, fighting for compensation - WNEM TV 5

9/11 heroes sick, fighting for compensation

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About 91,000 rescue, recovery and clean-up workers were exposed to toxic dust and chemicals in the wake of 9/11. (Source: FEMA) About 91,000 rescue, recovery and clean-up workers were exposed to toxic dust and chemicals in the wake of 9/11. (Source: FEMA)

NEW YORK (RNN) - The U.S. has continued to lose lives due to the 9/11 terror attacks well after the last piece of steel was removed from the smoldering remains of the World Trade Center.

Construction workers, firefighters, police officers and others who gave their time and ability to clean the wreckage and find survivors cannot work, are disabled and have lost their lives due to illnesses developed months and years after the last responder went home.

Ten years later, some also are fighting to be compensated for their losses.

One of those first responders is Al Hagen, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.

With a bicycle hooked to the back of his car, Hagen left his home in Queens, NY, and headed to his firehouse in Spanish Harlem. He grabbed his gear and headed to the World Trade Center (WTC) with the other off-duty members of his company.

He didn't return home for weeks – working at the site, sifting through wreckage, and searching for survivors. Hagan and many of the others who worked alongside him suffer from the dust and fumes they inhaled while working at the remains of the Twin Towers.

Hagan says he continues to be concerned for those who worked to clean up the mess.

"When their WTC illness stopped them from working, their medical benefits also stopped shortly thereafter, just when they needed those benefits the most," Hagan said.

Compensation act nearly died

Initially, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001 allowed those physically injured in the attacks and during the rescue efforts to receive compensation and aid for their service.

The 2001 Fund was active for two years and "distributed over $7.049 billion to survivors of 2,880 persons killed in the September 11th attacks and to 2,680 individuals who were injured in the attacks or in the rescue efforts conducted thereafter," according to the Federal Register.

The newest bill, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, came after years of working to create compensation that both parties could agree on.

During a late 2010 Congressional lame duck session, the Zadroga Act was nearly shelved while the GOP attempted to block much of the legislation on the table. Democrats were silent.

"We are still wondering why the Dems failed to enact this important piece of legislation when they controlled both the House and Senate along with the White House. We may have been mistaken when we considered the Democrat Party to be a ‘friend of labor,'" said Hagan.

Thousands are in need of the assistance the bill provides. Many first-responders who were affected are from almost every area of the city and across the country who rushed to New York to help.

"The delay is puzzling, at best," Hagan said of the holdup.

Around "91,000 rescue, recovery and clean-up workers, and volunteers - including virtually all of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) - were exposed to the environmental hazards," according to the City of New York's website.

On July 1, 2011, the Zadroga Act went into effect. The act was named after Detective James Zadroga, a 13-year veteran of the New York City Police Department who died in 2006 from respiratory disease, black lung disease, and mercury on the brain related to his work on the day of the attacks and more than 450 hours of recovery work at Ground Zero.

Zadroga was the first NYPD officer to die of exposure to the toxins and chemicals that hovered around Ground Zero, according to CBS News.

When Zadroga passed away, there was still some debate about whether his illnesses were a result of 9/11. Now, the causal relationship is more widely accepted.

According to the 2010 Annual Report on 9/11 Health conducted by the World Trade Center Medical Working Group, "It is estimated that four times as many firefighters and twice as many EMS workers had below-normal lung function for their ages six to seven years after 9/11 as they did before the attacks."

According to Samantha Levine, the deputy press secretary at New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office, the Zadroga Act accomplished what advocates had been waiting for - "Sustained funding to treat those who are sick, or could become sick as a result of 9/11; continued research on potential WTC health effects … so that those harmed as a result of 9/11 are fairly compensated."

Fund excludes cancer

The diseases covered include asthma and other various respiratory complications. However, the current legislation fails to consider cancer a valid illness linked with the carcinogens at the disaster sites.

Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, has been criticized for a report he made saying there is little evidence linking the 9/11 clean-up to cancer, according to The New York Times.

Cancer is so common, he said, that it is difficult to prove 9/11 is the cause of the new cancer cases in first responders.

Dr. David J. Prezant, chief medical officer for the New York City Fire Department and co-director of the FDNY World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program, has found evidence that contradicts Howard.

According to the New York Post, Prezant says evidence shows firefighters are getting cancer at a higher rate than they did before 9/11.

The types of cancer are also more rare and varied than average. To Hagan, cancer's exclusion from the bill hinges on more evidence.

"I await Dr. David Prezant's study to be published next month to make a final decision. I strongly suspect, based on anecdotal evidence, that cancers were caused by the Ground Zero dust and fumes," said Hagan.

Prezant's research of 10,000 New York City firefighters - released Sept. 1 of this year - found that those firefighters who worked in the wreckage are 19 percent more likely to develop cancer.

Prezant admits, though, this research is not conclusive, according to the New York Times. U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-NY, a leading advocate for the Zadroga Act, told the New York Times the study is, "building the case."

John Feal, founder of the Feal Good Foundation, spoke to CNN after the legislation was signed. The activist was outraged by the absence of cancer in the bill. He was a worker at Ground Zero, lost part of his foot and suffers from respiratory complications.

Feal said the legislation is, "a slap in our face and it's adding salt to a wound that hasn't closed in 10 years."

The Feal Good Foundation is a non-profit organization aiming to spread awareness about the health effects of 9/11 and to offer financial assistance to those affected, according to the foundation's website.

The foundation received 900 emails from first responders concerned about cancer's absence in the bill following its signing. Feal has attended 51 funerals for 9/11 workers that have died of cancer, he told CNN.

Until enough evidence can be produced to convince the government that cancer is a direct effect of Sept. 11, those suffering will continue paying for treatment without assistance.

Hagan is president of the Fire Officers Union in New York City and his office walls are full of photos and plaques to remind him of that terrible day. Knowing what rescuers know now about the dangers of responding on 9/11 and after, Hagan says he wouldn't do anything differently.

"Firefighters are sworn to risk their lives to protect others," he said.

Copyright 2011 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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