As legislators once again prepare to review and vote on the renewal of a bill known as the Zadroga Act, a $4 billion piece of legislation that helps pay for first responders’ medical costs associated with work at Ground Zero, thousands of EMTs, firefighters, and police officers continue to suffer the effects of breathing in the toxins left behind after the World Trade Centers collapsed on that fateful day.
Those affected are hoping the renewal is passed before the government takes its holiday break, but some lawmakers are concerned that a permanent extension of the bill – first passed in 2010 – will be too expensive.
But those first responders who have gotten sick since working at Ground Zero don’t think the cost is high at all. After all, they’re paying with their lives. Though just a week after 9/11, EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman told the first responders and all New Yorkers in general that the air was safe to breathe, the fact is that – for the last 14 years – emergency workers have developed everything from the now-well-known “World Trade Center Cough” to aggressive forms of cancer including mesothelioma.
It normally takes mesothelioma decades to appear, but the asbestos exposure was so severe at the Ground Zero site that the first emergency responder diagnosed with the disease learned she was sick just two years after the towers fell. Paramedic Deborah Reeve, who died at age 41, managed to survive for 2 years after her diagnosis but the disease took away the dreams of watching her kids grow and enjoying retirement with her husband.
Countless others followed Reeves, all succumbing to a disease that usually ends the lives of elderly men who once worked in the nation’s shipyards, steel mills, power plants, and assorted factories.
It is this lack of a latency period that helped experts connect 9/11 workers with a definitive cancer threat. Though the rates of cancer among Manhattanites in general after the tragedy varied little from those throughout the rest of the state, the fact that mesothelioma would appear so quickly convinced experts that there was indeed an abundance of asbestos being inhaled in those days (and maybe even months) after the towers fell.
Emergency responders, in general, face asbestos exposure threats on a regular basis. Firefighters that enter a blaze in an old structure that may have contained asbestos materials run the risk of being exposed. Police or emergency responders the comb the debris found after an explosion or other tragedy might encounter asbestos-containing materials.
Many other scenarios pose similar threats. That’s why emergency responders are high up on the list of those who may be likely to develop mesothelioma, usually through no fault of their own.
Unfortunately, especially in the early years when Reeve was diagnosed, emergency responders had to fight for disability benefits and, often, their claims were rejected. It is hoped that with the potential extension of the Zadroga Act others will not be met with the same resistance.
In many instances, emergency responders who find themselves with unmet expenses due to mesothelioma may have other options for compensation. Filing an asbestos-related lawsuit is one of them. If you have been affected by on-the-job exposure to asbestos during your work as an emergency responder, contact a local experienced mesothelioma attorney to determine whether or not you have a viable case.