Editorial: Extend Zadroga as long as 9/11 heroes need

Lower Hudson Journal News editorial 

A House committee hearing just weeks ago had to relocate to a bigger meeting room when dozens of New York City firefighters showed up, determined to win reauthorization of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Many first responders offered emotional testimony. The Zadroga Act offers health treatment for those exposed to the deadly chemicals that swirled around Ground Zero on and after September 11, 2001, and it provides benefits for victims’ families.

Photo: Journal News file photo

Photo: Journal News file photo

But the Zadroga Act’s benefits will sunset soon. There’s been lots of positive reaction from Washington on extending Zadroga. Some, though, still express doubt about a permanent extension. The men and women who rushed into the burning towers during a terrorist attack, and those who stayed for days, weeks and months in rescue and recovery mode, deserve ongoing care. That assurance should be available to 9/11 families for however long it is needed.

Sadly, Zadroga could continue to fill a need for decades to come. Last September, in one single day, three retired 9/11 rescuers lost their battles with diseases acquired from their exposure to Ground Zero’s toxic air. On June 14, Zacarias Toro, a deputy U.S. marshal who lived in Nanuet, died of cancer from exposure to toxic smoke at the World Trade Center nearly 14 years earlier. Almost three times as many members of the NYPD have died from 9/11-related illnesses than the 71 [sic – 23 NYPD officers and one NYPD cadet were killed in the attacks – the other police officers killed in the attacks were PAPD or from other departments] killed that day.

The ongoing losses remind us of the price paid by the heroes of 9/11 — those who rushed in as others rushed out, amid smoke and twisted steel, those who remained for weeks and months at The Pile, first on rescue then on recovery.

The Zadroga Act, signed into law in 2011, established the WTC Health Program and the Nationwide Provider Network, which provide thousands of 9/11 responders and their survivors with medical treatment for 9/11-related health conditions. Zadroga also reopened the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. The act also directs the Department of Health and Human Services to continue research into new conditions that may be related to the attacks; various cancers have been added to the list of diseases attributed to Ground Zero exposure. The health program could expire this October, and VCF could run out in 2016.

This all seems so logical, so fair, so much the right thing to do. So many members of Congress have shown support — after all, the World Trade Center Health Program treats people in all 50 states and in 429 of the 435 Congressional districts. How, one wonders, could Zadroga not be extended until it is no longer needed?

Let’s remember, though, in 2010, the initial Zadroga Act was nearly filibustered out of existence.

Retired NYPD Officer David Howley of Queens was among the scores of first responders who headed to Washington, D.C., for the June 22 hearing. “This is something that shouldn’t have any political fighting,” he told the Queens Times Ledger. “This should be absolute bipartisan 435-0 type bill.”

More than 30,000 9/11 responders and survivors rely on Zadroga Act medical treatment and the compensation programs. Deaths from 9/11 continue. We must provide for them, always.

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