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Some in Congress are forgetting the lingering health issues from the 9/11 attacks

Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Greg Nash
Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) hugs 9/11 firefighters advocate John Feal during a coordinated visit to Veterans and advocates on Tuesday, August 2, 2022 who’ve been staking out the Senate until the Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson Honoring our PACT Act is passed.

Recently a group of bipartisan members of Congress introduced a bill called the 9/11 Responder and Survivor Health Funding Correction Act of 2023, which is meant to close an inexplicable shortfall in the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP). Incredibly, the bill would also allow somehow excluded Pentagon and Shanksville responders, who you would have thought are eligible for the program, to join, and make some technical corrections

This comes on the heels of a recurrent request of the city of New York. After over 20 years, 9/11 responders are demanding the release of information related to air quality in New York City after 9/11 attacks. The Environmental Protection Agency had initially told all the responders that the air around Ground Zero in New York was safe to breathe.

This announcement after two planes, fully loaded with jet fuel, were intentionally flown into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and crashing into a field in Pennsylvania. Which for New York, included “an acrid miasma of 91,000 liters of jet fuel and the 10,000,000 tons of building materials and contents burning at temperatures above 1,000 degrees Celsius extended from lower Manhattan across the East River into Brooklyn and beyond to the sea….which included burning plastic, released dioxins, and hundreds of tons of asbestos as a flame retardant.” 

The “plume” as most responders described it, contained approximately 50 percent nonfibrous construction materials, 40 percent glass and other fibers, 9.2 percent cellulose from disintegrated paper and 0.8 percent asbestos. After 15 years, the former EPA administrator finally admitted that they were wrong with their original assessment that the air was safe.

One of the first 9/11 responders afflicted was retired New York Police Detective John Walcott, who had worked months at Ground Zero and at Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, sifting debris for human remains. In 2003 at the age of 38, a short two years after the attacks, he was stricken with acute myeloid leukemia, which doctors suspected was triggered by benzene, a cancer-causing chemical that permeated the WTC site from burning jet fuel

Over the last 20 years, of the 104,223 enrollees in the World Trade Center Health Program, the federal benefits plan for survivors and responders, 58 percent of all registered program members have contracted, as of 2020, at least one illness caused by 9/11, according to the CDC’s latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Yet there is still discussion about the need to fund the program?

9/11 Health Screening members noncancerous health issues climbed from 28,126 certified medical conditions in 2012 to 50,611 in 2020, an increase of 80 percent. The program calculated an average of 2.7 9/11-related health conditions per member and added that roughly 400,000 people came in contact with dangerous pollutants after the attacks, elevating their risk for medical complications.

The WTC Health Screening program saw a 62 percent increase in patients receiving treatment from 25,553 in 2012 to 41,387 in 2020, corresponding with a nearly 68 percent uptick in enrollees over that same period.

What this documents is that, even 20 years later, the health issues associated with the 9/11 attacks continues to evolve and grow. 

It took almost five years for the first 9/11 health related bill to be introduced into Congress and then another five years for the first 9/11 health screening bill, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act to be passed into law. Since then, 9/11 responders and advocates have had to return to Capitol Hill again in 2015 to push Congress to address funding and eligibility issues and then again in 2019 to push for better funding of both the health screening and victims compensation fund, most notable on the emotional testimony of celebrity Jon 

Once again, 9/11 responders have to return to Capitol Hill to ensure that the program stays solvent and people that should be able to access the program can. Why do 9/11 responders have to return to Capitol Hill so much?

Perhaps it’s because some in Congress apparently still amazingly, question the veracity of the attacks and others don’t think it’s important anymore.

Jamie Atkinson was a 19-year-old volunteer with Sayville Ambulance when he spent weeks working cleanup detail at Ground Zero. These last five years he has had to battle a rare stage 4 cancer among other 9/11 related health issues. Jamie’s cancer was linked to his 9/11 exposure yet it took approximately 15 years before it showed up in his body reinforcing that the attacks of 9/11 haven’t stop taking lives, it’s just doing it one life at a time.

Donald Mihalek is executive vice president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association Foundation.

Tags 9/11 health issues

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