September 2011
August 21, 2011

Finally, help comes for stricken responders

Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Ground Zero, 2003. Photo by Marie Triller.

In July, a package of $4.3 billion in compensation and health care benefits took effect to cover responders, volunteers and morgue employees, as well as people who lived, worked or attended school near Ground Zero, and suffer from illnesses related to exposure of toxic chemicals.

The package is testament to the leadership of then-Senator Hillary Clinton, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney and Jerrold Nadler. The New York Democrats never wavered from the years-long push for the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, named for a New York City police officer whose death was directly related to exposure to toxic chemicals at the site.

Cancer-stricken Ground Zero responders and residents, however, were told in late July they are not eligible to receive benefits.

"Those who went to help others and were exposed to a host of dangerous substances deserve far better than this," said Andy Pallotta, NYSUT's executive vice president. "It is outrageous that first responders to the Sept. 11 tragedy who have cancer will not receive these health care benefits."

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that while the debris in lower Manhattan contained known human carcinogens, studies found that first responders did not have dangerous levels of exposure and that lower Manhattan residents do not have a significantly higher risk of cancer. NIOSH has promised to do another study on cancer cases by the middle of 2012, but Gillibrand requested the study be done sooner. Other New York leaders also expressed their disappointment in the report.

"We believe this report is premature and that the framework established by the Zadroga bill will demonstrate that those who were exposed to the witches' brew of toxins at Ground Zero have developed serious illnesses, including cancer, and deserve justice," Schumer said.

The approved package of benefits includes $1.5 billion for treatment of breathing disorders and mental health problems and $2.8 billion in compensation. Claim forms became available in June.

Go to www.CDC.gov for the report.