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Will the 9/11 first responders law do the job?

In the final days of the 111th Congress, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health And Compensation Act, also called the “9/11 First Responders bill,” finally passed. The act will provide medical monitoring and care for those who worked on the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks, as well as for many who lived and worked nearby.

However, at the insistence of some senators, the final bill was considerably watered down from what it had been originally. More than $3 billion in funding was cut from a previous version of the bill, for example. Will the revised bill still do the job?


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When the Senate passed the bill, initial news reports said the monitoring and health care program would end after five years. However, the actual language of the bill provides for funding limitations for monitoring and health care after fiscal year 2016, which suggests the program might continue if Congress authorizes funding for it.

The monitoring issue is particularly critical. The collapse of the mammoth World Trade Center towers released thousands of tons of toxic particles into the air. For many weeks after the attacks, people who lived and worked in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn suffered burning eyes and hacking coughs from the foul air. Yet at the time, the federal government and the city of New York assured people the stinging fumes were not dangerous, just unpleasant.

Several days after the terrorist attacks, some independent researchers slipped past the police barricades to take samples. They found the air contained more than twice the number of asbestos fibers considered “safe,” as well as deadly levels of benzene, dioxin and other toxins.

Why should people exposed to the toxins continue to be monitored? Asbestos in particular is a very slow killer. It has been well documented that the first symptoms of the deadly lung cancer mesothelioma may not show up for 20 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos. But early detection should prolong lives and make mesothelioma treatment and other medical care more effective.

The final bill does close the Victims Compensation Fund in five years, which is separate from the health monitoring and care part of the bill. It also provides for more stringent monitoring of benefits, which might make it harder for people to get into the program.

Today — more than nine years after the attacks — many rescue and recovery workers are suffering deteriorating health. A study published in April 2010 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that New York City firefighters and emergency workers continue to suffer from severe and persistent lung problems because of their exposure to the World Trade Center debris. Some of these 9/11 heroes already have died.

Firefighters, police officers and other responders who had been begging Congress for help for nine years called the passage of the bill a “Christmas miracle.” Let us hope the final version of the bill will do the job.

Barbara O’Brien is a political and health blogger and owner of Mahablog.

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6 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. Our government also lied about Agent Orange, and about the effects of radiation from the atomic bombs before that.

  2. belief vs trust

    i don’t believe (past) their words (purpose)
    i don’t trust (future) their actions (vision)

  3. Without trust and belief in our government there is:

    No trust and belief in our Treasury Notes.
    No trust and belief in our currency.
    No trust and belief in our markets.
    No trust and belief in our laws.
    No trust and belief in the news.

    All of commerce and civilized society are dependent upon trust and belief. Without trust and belief
    there can be no recovery. Instead of working together, there are now two sides. This is just the
    beginning of a very bad thing.

  4. Yes erikhawkes,
    It’s like when the Feds said that all the oil spilled in the gulf, just disappeared. In the meantime, the funding for the scientists studying the impact of the spill was never paid. Scientists have lost more than a year of research so, yes, our government is lying to us. Our politicians are all paid off by big oil. Our governmental system is based on bribery.

  5. This whole issue raises concerns to me about responsibility. I find it amazing that police and firemen and city workers in NYC don’t have health insurance enough to cover this. And as for civilians, I am concerned that the entire U.S. taxpayer base has to step in for this too. As stated by erikhawks, the City of NY also assured people the fumes were safe, where is the NYC responsibility here? It seems to me they are ducking it and shifting everything to us taxpayers. But what else is new?

  6. The author states, …”the federal government and the city of New York assured people the stinging fumes were not dangerous, just unpleasant.”

    And that should be a warning to everybody. – Erik

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