The federal government will now officially add dozens of cancers to the list of illnesses linked to the Sept. 11 attacks, making those who lived or worked near ground zero and later became sick eligible for financial payments, authorities said Monday.
Fourteen categories of cancers, a total of 50, will be added to the illnesses covered in the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health announced.
The Zadroga Act — named after NYPD Detective James Zadroga, who died at 34 after working at ground zero — passed into law two years ago. Despite the hundreds of sick responders, the act did not cover cancer because of a supposed lack of scientific evidence linking cancer to ground zero toxins.
"We have urged from the very beginning that the decision whether or not to include cancer be based on science," said Mayor Bloomberg in a statement, adding that the decision "will continue to ensure that those who have become ill due to the heinous attacks on 9/11 get the medical care they need and deserve.”
Eighteen-year FDNY veteran Jeff Stroehlein spent several weeks working at ground zero, and is certain the brain cancer he has been fighting for a year is linked to his work there. The father of three welcomes the financial help the federal government will now be offering first responders with cancer, but says it should have arrived much earlier.
"The fact is, the government has turned their back for 11 years now," he said. "I saw no politicians digging on the pile. If you saw a politician that was sick or on the pile, or their kid was sick or on the pile, this would have been solved months ago."
Two more scientific studies are expected to be released shortly, which will determine whether more cancers should be added to the list, Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand said in a statement.
"Today's announcement is a huge step forward that will provide justice and support to so many who are now suffering from cancer and other illnesses," they said.
About 400 residents and rescue workers have died from cancer since 9/11, according to the New York Post.
With cancer included in the program more victims are likely to seek compensation, which could cause individual awards to be reduced as officials divide up the $2.77 billion fund.
"They’re going to add cancers, but are they going to add more money to the fund?" Thomas "T.J." Gilmartin, who suffers from lung disease and sleep apnea, said to the Post. "It’s crazy. Every time, we gotta fight. It’s two years since Obama signed that bill, and nobody’s got 10 cents."
Stroehlein is now cancer-free and feeling well. But at 48, after being forced to give up a job he loved and facing an uncertain future, he's focusing on speaking to lawmakers for his lost comrades, many of whom lost their life savings in their fight to survive after 9/11.
He's also troubled by the uncertainty future first responders may face.
"Do you want to give up your life for a government that turned around and didn't support you?"