9/11 first responders’ cancer not covered is a tragedy

News last week that cancer of first responders at ground zero would not be added to a list of ailments treated by the World Trade Center Health Program surely comes as a blow to those heroic rescue workers.

The first NIOSH review (.pdf file) examining current medical research on the link between first responders’ cancer and exposures to fumes from the 9/11 terrorist attacks (which one politician called a “toxic brew”) found no causal association.

Program administrator John Howard stressed this lack of evidence linking the two did not mean there was no link, and said a second periodic review would be performed in about a year.

I’m a big proponent of scientific research and using its findings to establish rules and procedures, and I have the utmost respect for Howard. By all accounts, he’s doing what he’s required to do – trying to find the link so he can put forward a rule to cover cancer.

But it comes down to money, as many things do. When the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act (H.R. 847) passed, it did not include cancer as a treatable disease. Doing so undoubtedly would have raised the cost for the bill (cancer treatment is not cheap, after all) and put the bill’s passage in jeopardy.

These days, many people in this country can’t seem to agree on much. But paying for the cancer treatment of men and women who risked their lives to help others in the worst terrorist attacks in this country’s history? That should be a gimme.

I’d rant about this more, but I feel Jon Stewart – whose genuine and emotional activism for the bill late last year when its passage seemed in doubt was quite moving – sums things up nicely.


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