Forbes - December 22, 2015by Katie Sola
The long-reaching health effects of the 9/11 attacks made headlines again with the passage of the Zadroga Act Dec. 18. The new law secures health coverage and compensation for the thousands of firefighters, construction workers and cleanup workers sickened by the toxic clouds of the collapse.
It took Congress more than 14 years to pass a permanent health bill for 9/11 first responders. The Zadroga Act was introduced in 2006, defeated in 2010, and is named after New York City police detective James Zadroga whose death was linked by some doctors to smoke inhalation during the attacks. The act guarantees $2.4 billion in funding for health programs treating 9/11 survivors and first responders through 2090, and supplies $4.6 billion for a compensation fund for victims and their families through 2020. That’s a total of $7 billion over the next 75 years.
The money will be put to work monitoring 72,000 first responders for illnesses related to 9/11. Over 30,000 responders and survivors have at least one health condition. Almost 5,000 have cancer. A 2011 study of 27,500 responders published in Lancet showed that 42 percent had sinusitis from inhaling the toxic dust. More than a quarter had asthma, and 39 percent had heartburn. 32 percent had PTSD.
Many of these conditions are treatable, Dr. Michael Crane, medical director of the World Trade Center Health Program, tells Forbes. Skin cancer is the most prevalent cancer among victims, but it’s curable if caught and treated early.
“We feel pretty good that we will be able to help these folks prevent their cancers or catch them really early,” he said. “Folks are going to be OK.”
It’s too late for 1,700 people. That’s how many have already died from illnesses related to 9/11, according to John Feal of the FealGood first responders foundation. The former demolition supervisor lobbied Congress to extend the Zadroga Act.
Supporters celebrated the bill’s passing. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the bill’s sponsor, told reporters it was “my proudest day in Washington.” She thanked the New York Daily News for telling the stories of first responders and “shaming” the bill’s opponents.