After much lobbying and petitioning by first responders, lobbyists, the media, and even celebrities, the House and Senate both voted last year to extend the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act for 75 years to help provide basic health care for first responders who became ill after performing rescue and recovery operations on or following September 11th, 2001. James Zadroga was a New York City Police Officer who died of a respiratory illness attributed to his participation in rescue operations after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Named for him, the Zadroga Act was created in 2010 but was set to expire October 1, 2016. First responders to 9/11 were relieved when the Act was extended last year.
The 9/11 first responders bravely faced danger in the line of duty. They became sick as a result of their self-sacrifice to help others and deserve access to health care and medical financial assistance related to their on-the-job exposure. Retired NYPD Officer David Howley gave his testimony before U.S. Congress and fought adamantly for the renewal of the Act. He spent months on site after the attacks, and now has throat and neck cancer as well as other conditions directly related to 9/11. Retired NYPD Detective Barbara Burnette testified before congress in 2009 and pleaded for the initial passing of the Zaragoda Act. She developed a debilitating lung disease after being at Ground Zero for several weeks.
Countless numbers of survivors–rescue and recovery workers, area residents, children, office workers, and passersby around the affected area on 9/11–still suffer with sickness and disease related to their inhalation of dust and debris during the days and months after the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. Most of us cannot fathom the massive devastation. When the passenger jets hit the towers, 24,000 gallons of jet fuel exploded, setting fire to 100,000 tons of organic debris, heating and diesel systems, and the buildings themselves. As a result, a toxic cloud of ashes and soot surrounded the area for months. In the dust cloud, chemicals like asbestos, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, mercury, and crystalline silica, as well as other toxic substances, lingered for months.
The aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 still follows us today, not only in the way our nation’s security has increased, or the memory of those we lost in the air and on the ground, but especially for those that were at Ground Zero during and for many months following the disaster who suffer from debilitating illnesses. 2,996 people were killed on that fateful day, and over 6,000 people were wounded, but the death toll continues to climb due to cancers, respiratory diseases, and other illnesses related to exposure to contaminants from 9/11. Thanks to those who fought for the renewal of the Zaragoda Act, the surviving heroes have some support with their own health battles now.