The 63,000 individuals exposed to asbestos and other toxic materials that blanketed Lower Manhattan when the World Trade Center towers fell in 2001 stand to be benefit from a bill now before Congress.
The bill aims to provide permanent medical monitoring and support services for the exposure victims. Many of them are at risk of developing mesothelioma, according to Congressional sources.
A sizable number of those potential mesothelioma patients were Ground Zero first responders and rescue workers.
Others were residents, tourists and business employees in the wrong place at the wrong time when the terrorist-commandeered airliners struck the Twin Towers on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
The bill as of late October had 223 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. In the Senate it had 57. Even political comedian Jon Stewart was throwing in his support.
Stewart, the former host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” was among a group of citizens who recently showed up on Capitol Hill in Washington to lobby for the bill.
Mesothelioma Testing and Care Would Continue
The bill seeks to renew the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. It expired in October.
That law earmarked $4.2 billion for testing and treatment services provided under the banner of the World Trade Center Health Program.
Specifically, the program monitored 9/11 rescuers and survivors for health problems caused by inhaled dust from the collapsed towers. It then provided care for those found to have 9/11-related illnesses.
Sources say the World Trade Center Health Program has enough cash to continue operating until this coming spring. The bill now before Congress would keep the program afloat far into the future.
Another element of the original Zadroga Act was a Victims Compensation Fund. This program, too, would continue if the new bill becomes law.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) told USA Today that she believed the renewal bill will easily pass the House whenever it is brought up for a vote.
However, no vote was scheduled as of the end of October, according to Maloney. She is the bill’s lead sponsor in the lower chamber.
Mesothelioma Is One of the Illnesses Covered
Both the old and new Zadroga acts are geared to address the respiratory problems developed by Ground Zero rescuers, survivors and bystanders. One of those problems is, of course, mesothelioma.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said, “We know exactly which diseases are caused,” referring to mesothelioma as one of them.
Gillibrand, the lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate, added that “[w]e can show exactly…what patients we have, what diseases they are suffering from.”
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) told USA Today that the Ground Zero rescuers came from every corner of the nation to sift through the tower rubble in search of survivors. Because vast numbers of the rescuers came as volunteers, “we have an obligation to care for those who responded,” Flake said.
To date more than 1,700 people have died from 9/11-related illnesses. Those casualties are in addition to the 3,000 who lost their lives in the terrorist attack itself.
Backers of the Zadroga Act renewal bill say they expect there will be many thousands more 9/11-related deaths in the years ahead. Mesothelioma probably will claim more than a few of those lives.