Zadroga Act Decision Leaves Out Cancer Victims

<"">World Trade Center attack first responders who are now suffering from cancer won’t have access to funds set aside for sick and injured Ground Zero rescue and recovery workers under the Zadroga Act. The decision to leave cancer off the list of covered illnesses follows a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) review of scientific evidence that purportedly found “very little” evidence of a link between cancer and the toxic dust cloud that enveloped and then blanketed much of lower Manhattan in the wake of the attacks.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act became law late last year. It reopened the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund for five years to provide payment for job and economic losses for first responders, those trapped in the buildings, and local residents who suffered illness or injures related to the toxic dust.

According to a report from the Associated Press, the list of diseases covered by the Zadroga Act includes asthma, interstitial lung disease and mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder. But cancer is excluded because NIOSH says, “Insufficient evidence exists at this time to propose a rule to add cancer, or a certain type of cancer.” According to the NIOSH report, only one peer-reviewed article was published on the subject in 2009 and two others were based on models to estimate the risk of cancer.

“These limitations in the exposure assessment literature make scientific analysis of a causal association between exposure and health effects, such as cancer, quite challenging,” the report said.

The decision will stand until at least 2012, when NIOSH will conduct its next review, the Associated Press said.

<"">Matthew McCauley, an attorney with the national law firm of <"">Parker Waichman Alonso LLP who represents sick Ground Zero responders, called the decision to exclude cancer a serious step backward for hundreds of people who risked their lives to save others in the aftermath of the attacks.

“This is not just about compensation, this is also about healthcare,” McCauley said. “All of the people who are now barred from obtaining any compensation from Zadroga are also barred from getting healthcare from Zadroga. It’s a triple whammy. Not only can’t you work, but now you have developed cancer and you have no access to healthcare to treat that cancer.”

McCauley also said he disagreed with the merits of the decision.

“I don’t understand the ruling especially given that in the original 9/11 victims settlement anyone who received compensation is also guaranteed additional compensation if they should develop cancer later in life,” he said.

In addition, McCauley faulted the administration of President George W. Bush for the lack of scientific evidence supporting a link between cancer and toxic dust.

“Today’s decision essentially said there is not enough scientific data to analyze these cases and this is due to the Bush administration’s refusal to fund these studies,” McCauley added. “The Obama administration reversed this and I’m cautiously optimistic that in time, when additional studies can be conducted, that we can overturn this decision.”

Richard Dambakly, a Ground Zero worker and one of McCauley’s clients, echoed his sentiments.

“I have to tell you I’m not happy about it,” Dambakly, 49, told the Associated Press. “You don’t have to do research to know people have gotten sick from working there. I know I got sick there.”

Dambakly, who has no health insurance, worked for four months at Ground Zero and was later diagnosed with blood cancer.

According to the Associated Press, several lawmakers are already calling for the Zadroga Act cancer exclusion to be reversed. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called the report “premature,” while U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., called on NIOSH to accelerate research and data collection to examine the links between cancer and exposure to contaminants at Ground Zero.

According to a CBS New York report, New York Representatives Peter King, a Republican, and Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler, both Democrats, have released a joint statement in opposition to the decision.

“This is disappointing news for 9/11 responders and survivors who tragically have been diagnosed with cancer since the attacks and are suffering day-to-day and awaiting help,” they said in the statement

The lawmakers said they “were confident that studies on the effects of the toxins at ground zero -research that, under the Zadroga Act, can be funded and fully supported for the first time- will ultimately provide the scientific evidence” to reverse the cancer exclusion.

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