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James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act

Medical researchers are seeing unusually high incidences of respiratory issues and lung scarring in Ground Zero workers, especially those who were first on the scene of the 2001 New York terrorist attacks. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on April 8, 2010, found “Exposure to World Trade Center dust led to large declines in FEV1 (forced expiratory volume) for FDNY rescue workers during the first year. Overall, these declines were persistent, without recovery over the next 6 years, leaving a substantial proportion of workers with abnormal lung function.” Many experts worry that the workers’ reduced lung health and capacity will increase their potential for developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases in the coming years.

Treatment for mesothelioma is complex and, depending on the stage of the disease, typically involves a multi-modal approach including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Managing the associated health care costs for mesothelioma treatment is one of the major concerns of mesothelioma patients. Some patients are forced to end treatments early due to their inability to afford further care. Others continue to build debt until they are left wondering how they will cover the bills. A new act signed into law in January 2011, however, brings some financial relief to the victims of the 9/11 tragedy.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act enacted by President Obama provides medical care and compensation to rescue workers and others harmed by the toxic dust after the 2001 terrorist attacks. The bill was named to honor a New York police detective who some consider to be the first responder to die from breathing the dust at Ground Zero. Zadroga died in 2006.

The $4.3 billion measure is designed to provide health benefits and compensation to many of the rescue workers that are at risk for asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma and respiratory disease, from inhaling the noxious cloud of dust at Ground Zero.

The act provides $1.8 billion to establish a monitoring and treatment program to measure the ongoing health effects suffered by 9/11 first responders and New Yorkers who breathed the dust. It also funds a survivor program to provide health screenings and follow-up monitoring to people who live, worked or were present in lower Manhattan, south of Houston Street or in Brooklyn within a 1.5 mile radius of the World Trade Center site during a set period after the attacks.

Inhalation of airborne asbestos fibers is known to cause mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. The fibers also contribute to other respiratory diseases.  The effects of asbestos are typically not evident for decades after exposure. Many cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed 30 years or more after the initial exposure. Mesothelioma claims the lives of 2,500 to 3,000 Americans each year. Many of those victims were exposed to asbestos in a workplace many years earlier.

The signing of the 9/11 Health Care bill underscores the nation’s ongoing support for the rescue workers and New York residents who have suffered respiratory health problems related to breathing the toxic dust cloud after the World Trade Center terrorist attacks.

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