Heroism And Horror: Detective James Zadroga's Sacrifice At WTC Must Not Be In Vain

NY Daily News - October 23, 2009


The statement of NYPD Detective James Zadroga to the 9/11 Commission, excerpted in the adjacent column, should be a must-read for every member of Congress.

Zadroga's account was submitted to the panel in 2003. Less than three years later, he was dead at age 34, the victim of severely damaged lungs. A New Jersey coroner ruled that Zadroga had been felled by toxins inhaled in long hours of laboring at Ground Zero. The city's medical examiner disputed the finding.

What was beyond question is that Zadroga breathed in the same pulverized glass and concrete and the same burning chemicals that later inflicted respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases on thousands of rescue and recovery workers.

His name serves as the informal title of legislation that would provide federal funding for health care for the many 9/11 workers who are ill and reopen the 9/11 victims compensation fund.

The bill has been stalled in Congress for far too long. Tomorrow, sickened workers will rally, yet again, in the hope of winning action. Among other things, they will cite the deaths this month of three 9/11 responders in a single five-day period.

All were young - Police Officer Robert Grossman and Firefighter Richard Mannetta were 44, Officer Cory Diaz was 37. All died of cancers. The cancer death of Firefighter John McNamara, also 44, shortly preceded those losses.

Doctors are hesitant to link cancers to Ground Zero's poisoned air. Whether there is cause and effect is in no way certain. The illnesses might only reflect the cancer rate in the general population.

For years, experts have feared a second wave of illnesses - cancers - would emerge in WTC responders. The question of whether a new, deadlier epidemic is starting will take painstaking analysis. The numbers so far are rudimentary:

The state Health Department WTC Responder Fatality Investigation Program blames 249 of 454 deaths from illnesses on cancer. A study by the Mount Sinai Medical Center World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program described four cases of a blood cancer in people under 45 among 28,000 studied. That's four times the rate found in the general population. Some 600 of the 10,000 people in a lawsuit against the city and contractors involved in the cleanup downtown say they have cancer.

While no conclusions are possible, there are grounds for intensive study - of a kind that would be funded by a federal WTC program. Should a link be proven between Ground Zero exposure and cancer, the need for health care and compensation would rise exponentially.

To read Zadroga's statement is to encounter heroism that has faded unconscionably from memory, as well as a betrayal that has simply been unconscionable. His feeling of having been abandoned by his country is heartbreaking, as it must be for all the forgotten victims of 9/11.