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Ground Zero Workers May Get Cancer Coverage, But the Health Disaster Remains

9:54 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

WTC 9/11

(photo: slagheap/flickr)

Cross-posted from In These Times

More than a decade after the Twin Towers came crashing down, the disaster still weighs heavily on the bodies of workers and survivors. A federal panel’s recent decision on cancers related to 9/11 could bring some long awaited relief, as well as new challenges for sick survivors of Ground Zero.

The panel’s analysis may open a channel for covering various forms of cancer through the healthcare fund of the federal Zadroga Act, which offers compensation for sicknesses resulting from the disaster. Though the multi-billion dollar fund won’t expand without further congressional action, the panel’s decision is a boost for survivors who had previously met resistance from lawmakers who were reluctant to include cancer care in the program, fearing the potential financial liability.

Joel Shufro, executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health called the decision a breakthrough. “It is the preliminary and necessary first step to including a whole range of people who are suffering from various types of cancer, and essentially opening the door to medical services and compensation,” he said. But he added, “There are number of unanswered questions that still remain,” including challenges people may face in applying for compensation, through a process constrained by the legislation’s five-year time frame and pending federal guidelines on the review process for health claims.

Since 9/11, emergency responders and other survivors have been plagued with health problems associated with dust and pollutants surrounding the “Ground Zero” site. Advocates say the health problems were aggravated by the government’s failure to provide protective gear and other safety measures following the disaster. Read the rest of this entry →

Ten Years On, Sick Ground Zero Workers Still Without Proper Care

6:07 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Bob Houlihan. Creative Commons.

This weekend, the public will mourn a site of loss, recasting the painful memories and haunting fears that still hover over the aftermath at Ground Zero. But the people who worked and breathed that tragedy in the days and months following September 11 won’t be at the primary commemoration ceremony for the families of victims. The Mayor’s decision to limit the attendees by excluding the 9/11 first responders is an unnerving metaphor for an unhealed scar of 9/11. Many of the rescue and recovery workers who labored at Ground Zero have been plagued by a metastasizing medical crisis, aggravated by chronic political failure.

This week, 9/11 firefighters and police chiefs rallied to demand changes to the rules governing compensation for health problems tied to poisonous air and debris at Ground Zero. They want federal funds to support treatment for cancer, which is currently omitted from the primary legislation covering Ground Zero-related medical needs. For years, researchers have been uncovering fresh evidence of widespread and devastating illnesses afflicting a large portion of people exposed to the aftermath; ongoing health issues range from crippling lung and breathing problems to post-traumatic stress disorder. But adequate funding for 9/11 workers has often been ensnared in political gridlock, not to mention the general incompetence of the healthcare system.

The UK Guardian reports that new research could trump politicians’ concerns over potential cancer liabilities:

Cancer treatment has been specifically excluded from federal health funding, with officials arguing there has been insufficient evidence to prove any direct link between the toxins present at the site and the disease.

But last week the results of the first large-scale study, published in the Lancet, found that firefighters who were involved on the day of the attacks and in the weeks that followed had a 19 percent higher risk of contracting cancer.

The study looked at 9,800 male firefighters, comparing those present during and after the attacks with those who were not involved.

Beyond the study’s findings, there’s disturbing anecdotal evidence of cancer and various other problems, like gastric ailments and the inflammatory disease sarcoidosis. No one knows what the long-term effects are, but whatever the fate of these responders, there are about 15,000 people currently receiving treatment who will need answers soon. Read the rest of this entry →