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Entries in Zadroga Act (2)

Tuesday
Sep112012

For 9/11 Cancer Victims, Zadroga Expansion Is Bittersweet

DOUG KANTER/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The World Trade Center Health Program will now provide treatment and compensation for first responders from 9/11 victims who were diagnosed with cancer after inhaling toxic dust at Ground Zero, program administrator Dr. John Howard announced on Monday.  But many first responders say they consider the expansion bittersweet.

Cancer had not previously been part of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which set aside $4.3 billion to treat and otherwise compensate 9/11 victims.  It included asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome and lower back pain, but not cancers because the cancer link to the dust cloud and debris that hung over lower Manhattan was unclear.

"They're only about 10 years too late," said Jeffrey Stroehlein, who retired from the New York Fire Department in May 2011, two months after he was diagnosed with a type of brain cancer that affects the central nervous system.  "I'm watching people die of these diseases, these ailments, as they go on and play ping pong," he said of government officials arguing over whether cancer should be included in the Zadroga Act coverage.

Stroehlein began having headaches nearly 10 years after he worked at Ground Zero, clearing debris with the rest of the first responders after the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001.  He was diagnosed with cancer in March 2011, and underwent chemotherapy every other week for 14 weeks, followed by an intense eight-day round of chemo.

"It's kind of scary I was one of the lucky ones," he said.

Stroehlein said his highest cancer-related bill to date was more than $220,000, and he couldn't imagine what a first responder would do without good health coverage, which he was fortunate enough to have.  But the Zadroga Act would not have been able to pay for his treatment because cancer wasn't covered.

Stroehlein's last four MRIs have shown no signs of the cancer, but he doesn't like to use the phrase "cancer-free."

"I'm just a piece of the puzzle, one of thousands of first responders," he said, adding that he thinks some people probably had to foreclose on their homes to pay for cancer treatment.  "Who's going to get your house back? ... Most people don't have that money lying around."

Tom Neal, a now-retired New York Police Department detective, says he's lucky his wife convinced him to purchase a smart health care plan, which covered the doctors he needed to treat his cancer.

Neal worked on the first floor of police headquarters in downtown Manhattan on 9/11.  He said he heard an early bulletin about the attack on the radio and was able see the first World Trade Center tower on fire from the back of the NYPD building.  And then there was the dust cloud that included asbestos, lead, glass, metal and other toxins.

"People were coming back to the headquarters, and it was all throughout the building and on all the floors," he said of the dust.

Neal said NYPD headquarters' air conditioning and heating system vents weren't cleaned until 2005, so while he sat at his desk processing DNA to help identify victims, he was breathing in carcinogens for years.  He began having sinus and breathing problems as early as 2002, and doctors found a tumor in 2010 between his eyes that grew into the frontal lobe of his brain.

He said he'd had several previous injuries covered by Worker's Compensation, but he had to get cancer treatment under his own healthcare plan.  He went to a World Trade Center Health Program center for an initial exam, but they said he couldn't get treatment because he had cancer.  Instead, he had to battle with insurance companies and stress about bills and staying within his health insurance company's network.

"It's not about the money," Neal said.  "It's about the agencies and the companies that should stand up for their employees and take care of them."

After several surgeries and treatments, he says he's doing "really well" but battling some side effects of radiation.

He said he's optimistic about the Zadroga Act Expansion, but also frustrated by the slow response because he thinks agencies -- not the individual doctors -- have been "discriminating" against those with certain illnesses.

Overall, about 40,000 Sept. 11 responders and survivors receive monitoring and 20,000 get treatment for their illnesses as part of the Zadroga Act's health program.  The FealGood Foundation, founded by first responder John Feal, lists 341 9/11-related cancer deaths to date among first responders.

And as more cancer victims come forward, advocates say the value of the fund and the length of time it will be available must be expanded.  Right now, it will only last through 2016.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep012011

9/11 First Responders Plagued by Health Problems from Toxic Dust and Debris

DOUG KANTER/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- For many of the nearly 50,000 9/11 first responders, the wounds of the Twin Tower attacks are far from healing. According to two studies published Thursday in the British journal Lancet, these rescue workers continue to struggle with respiratory illness, depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and many of them may be at increased risk for developing a number of cancers.

In the months following 9/11, firefighter Kenny Specht, 43, spent every day at the site, navigating the rubble in hopes of at first rescuing people, and later recovering the bodies of those crushed when the towers fell. Though he and his fellow rescue workers were picking through rubble littered with asbestos, mercury, crushed florescent light bulbs and other known toxins, they were outfitted with only their normal uniform to protect them from potential contaminants.

"They gave us paper masks and overalls, like you'd see in home improvement shows. They let us go back to our homes every day with our contaminated gear," Specht says.

It wasn't until 2006 that he started to experience health problems. At first it was gastrointestinal issues that required him to have his gallbladder removed, but in 2007 a CAT scan following an injury on the job revealed thyroid cancer.

Though the string of cancer cases among New York firefighters who worked at 9/11 seemed like a sad coincidence when Specht was diagnosed, this Levittown, N.Y., man is now part of a trend that researchers are just beginning to understand: Those who worked at the WTC site seem to be at increased risk of cancer, especially thyroid cancer, melanoma and lymphoma. According to a study released of nearly 10,000 New York firefighters (half of whom worked at the WTC site), those from the site are 32 percent more likely to have cancer.

"I've been to 54 funerals of firefighters since 9/11 and 52 of them are cancer-related," says John Feal, a former firefighter and founder of the FealGood Foundation, an advocacy group seeking medical coverage and compensation for first responders of 9/11.

The collapse of the Twin Towers contaminated the nearby air with particles of glass, asbestos, cement, lead and other toxins. It is thought that exposure to this dust through the lungs and skin has contributed to the asthma, gastrointestinal problems, and possibly the increased cancer risk experienced by rescue workers, especially those who were on the site immediately after the attack, when the cloud of debris dust was its thickest.

"Because those responding in the first hours were stuck in the dust cloud, these were the people with the highest rate of every disease we tracked," says Dr. Philip Landrigan, dean of Global Health at Mount Sinai School of medicine and senior researcher of one of Thursday's studies. The study, which looked at medical and mental health outcomes for about 30,000 rescue workers involved in 9/11 aid work, found that nearly a third of these workers have developed asthma and between 10 and 30 percent still suffer from persistent medical disorders, including gastro-esophageal reflux, depression and PTSD, even nine years after they were exposed to the WTC site.

Though researchers expected to see some persistence in medical and mental health symptoms for these workers, Landrigan says the extent to which they are still suffering was an "unwelcome surprise."

"We're still seeing 75 to 100 new patients each month, even after all these years," he says. Landrigan urges those who worked at the WTC to seek examination at one of New York City's WTC Centers for Excellence -- hospitals that provide specialized testing and treatment for those with physical and mental health conditions associated with 9/11.

Thanks to the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, signed into law by President Obama in January, rescue workers can receive financial assistance for health problems such as those identified in Landrigan's study. At this time, however, the act does not cover cancer, as a federal analysis decided there was not enough evidence to say that 9/11 work contributed to cancer risk at that time.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio