After 9/11 we vowed to never forget. That vow comes with an obligation to ensure that we as a country remember and honor those we lost that day and to care for those who became ill as a direct result of being exposed to toxins during the rescue and recovery work at Ground Zero 13 years ago.
The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act helped make good on that promise by establishing the World Trade Center Health Program and reopening the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. These programs provide medical treatment and financial compensation to the thousands of responders and survivors who were harmed at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa., sites.
The Zadroga Act is not only important to the people in the New York and New Jersey regions — it is also essential for families throughout the United States. After 9/11, people from all 50 states and from all walks of life flocked to New York to help with the recovery. With Americans in 431 of 435 congressional districts now participating in the 9/11 health program, every member of Congress has a stake in seeing the Zadroga Act extended.
Take, for example, Lila, who now lives in California but on the Tuesday morning of Sept. 11, 2001, was attending Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. She and her fellow classmates were evacuated and stuck out on the street when the second tower fell. The dust cloud that blanketed lower Manhattan has caused severe respiratory problems for Lila over the past 13 years but, thanks to the national health program, she gets support for her severe acid reflux, a condition related to continued contact with the toxic air that settled over Manhattan while she completed high school.
There’s also Reggie, a police officer who helped search for human remains for months following 9/11. Several years after his service, he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and then a year later with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, at the age of 35. Typically, most people diagnosed with multiple myeloma are over the age of 65 year, with fewer than 1 percent of cases occurring in patients younger than 35. Now in remission, his co-payments and prescriptions for these 9/11-related diseases are covered through the World Trade Center Health Program.
More than 30,000 Americans like Lila and Reggie have illnesses or injuries suffered in the aftermath of the attacks. Chronic diseases like asthma, obstructive pulmonary disease and gastroesophageal reflux disease continue to plague those who were exposed.
First responders have been particularly affected. More than 800 members of the New York Fire Department and more than 550 New York Police Department personnel are struggling with serious 9/11-related illnesses. And, sadly, more than 70 firefighters and 60 NYPD officers have died as a result of their 9/11-related illnesses.
Medical research indicates that 9/11 responders have developed certain cancers at a significantly higher rate than has the general population. So far, more than 2,900 people in the health program have been diagnosed with cancers caused or made worse by exposure at Ground Zero. Given the lengthy latency periods that are typical with cancer, unfortunately, we expect that more individuals will continue to be diagnosed many years after the current program is set to expire.
Allowing the Zadroga Act to expire would be a tragic injustice. We as a nation cannot deny care to those who put themselves in harm’s way simply because they didn’t get sick soon enough.
In the coming weeks and months, we will work together with our colleagues in the House and Senate to send the Zadroga reauthorization bill to the president’s desk before it expires. Congress has an opportunity to live up to the commitment it made in the aftermath of 9/11, and it should do so without hesitation.
Maloney has represented New York City congressional districts since 1993. She sits on the Financial Services, and the Oversight and Government Reform committees. King has represented New York congressional districts on Long Island since 1993. He sits on the Financial Services, the Homeland Security, and the Intelligence committees. Nadler has represented New York City congressional districts since 1992. He sits on the Judiciary, and the Transportation and Infrastructure committees.