NJ Senators Press Effort for Permanent 9/11 WTC Health Program

Booker and Menendez.

New Jersey’s two Senators are taking a leading role in pressing for permanent funding for the 9/11 World Trade Center Health Program, which is set to run out of funding without bi-partisan Congressional action.

According to the 9/11 WTC Health Program, over 10,000 New Jersey residents are currently enrolled in the program. The healthcare program serves first responders, students, workers, residents, and commuters who were exposed to lower Manhattan’s toxic air after the 9/11 attack and the collapse of the twin towers as well as the fires that continued to burn for months.

The renewed full court press comes as the post 9/11 death toll from exposure to the World Trade Center toxic air has well surpassed the 2,600 people that died at that site on the day of the attack. Today, tens of thousands of first responders and civilian survivors are being treated for at least one life-altering chronic disease, often several, by the World Trade Center Health program.

“For ‘Never Forget’ to have meaning it means never forget in commemoration, which we should do every year, and it means by action–to take care of the health of the survivors and the first responders,” Sen. Robert Menendez told reporters at a Feb. 28 press conference. “It is a hollow promise to go to a 9/11 commemoration and vote against the efforts to fund the healthcare of all those survivors.”

Menendez recalled that New Jersey lost 746 residents on the day of the attack and that the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which established the World Trade Center Health Program, was named for New Jersey resident retired NYPD Detective James Zadroga.  Zadroga’s death was the first linked to the World Trade Center toxins.

Sen. Cory Booker called out for reporters the irony of the delegation of 9/11 first responders coming down to Washington to lobby Congress for permanent funding of the World Trade Center Health Program.

“To have Americans of this caliber coming down the Capitol of the United States to have to ask members of Congress to do what is their duty to do,” Booker said. “Nobody here is asking for charity. They are asking us to fulfill our oath and our promise. I was taught as a young man that you are not defined by what happens to you but by how you respond.”

Booker continued. “Brave men and women, like those who are standing around me right now defined the character of this country be responding despite the peril, despite the danger, despite the threats to their health, the risk to their family they responded with heroism and strength and so how will we respond.

Back in December 9/11 World Trade Center advocates were dealt a setback when the full $3.7 billion appropriation needed was reduced to just $1 billion during the negotiations over the $1.7 trillion Omnibus spending bill rushed to get through Congress before the Democrats lost control of House of Representatives.

“Sadly, today more than 110,000 responders, residents, students, and office workers are sick with 9/11 related illnesses,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) “That number is increasing, and I am afraid will continue to increase. We have a moral obligation to make sure these people are cared for. However, we are dangerously close to losing our ability to do that. This ever-increasing number of effected people reflects the urgency to strengthen the World Trade Center Health Program.”

In addition to the tens of thousands of first responders and construction workers who worked for several months at the 16-acre site, there were close to 20,000 New York City public school students and thousands of teachers as well as support staff ordered back into dozens of schools in the contaminated zone.

Tens of thousands of college students attended schools like Pace University and the Borough of Manhattan Community College in the WTC hot zone.

After the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, former Gov. Christie Whitman as EPA administrator offered reassuring statements that the air was “safe” to breathe. But a 2003  EPA’s Inspector General report found the EPA did not have sufficient data “to make such a blanket statement” when their “air monitoring data was lacking for several pollutants of concern, including particulate matter and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).”

“Furthermore, The White House Council on Environmental Quality influenced, through the collaboration process, the information that EPA communicated to the public through its early press releases when it convinced EPA to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones,” the EPA Inspector General wrote, adding that “over 25-percent of the bulk dust samples that EPA had collected…showed the presence of asbestos above the 1-percent threshold used by EPA to indicate significant risk.”

Labor unions are in the forefront of the latest drive to secure permanent funding for the 9/11 World Trade Center Health Program.

“Responders and survivors shouldn’t have to lie in bed at night just wondering if Congress is going to do its job, if our country is going to fulfill its promise,” Ryan Delgado, the NYS AFL-CIO’s chief of staff told reporters at a Feb. 28 Washington D.C. press conference. “Our members died working in that building that day. They rushed in when others ran out. They worked and lived in the surrounding communities, and they worked on the pile for days, weeks, months, and years in the rebuilding efforts as well.”

FDNY Lt. James McCarthy, is president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, which represents 7,000 active and retired members who he told reporters all responded to the WTC on 9/11. On that day, 343 members of the FDNY. Currently, well over 300 members have died from their occupational exposure in the weeks and months that followed.

“More people are going to die from the FDNY than died on Sept. 11th— that is happening now,” McCarthy said. “As far as we are concerned, what we think in the FDNY-the firefighters and the fire officers—cancer is inevitable. We are going to get sick. We are just hoping it’s not as serious. That’s why we need this funding. That’s why we need the prescription drugs. That’s why we need the healthcare because we know we are going to get sick.”

“We are in the second month of the year 2023, and already we have lost nine members of the FDNY to World Trade Center related illness. Think about that for a minute,” Edward Kelly, the president of International Association of Fire Fighters told reporters. “We have one simple ask of Congress. Do the right thing. Make sure our nation is there for those who were there for our nation. “

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), one of the bill’s lead sponsors, said the 9/11 Responder and Survivor Health Funding Correction Act was needed with the growth of the program due in part because thousands of the survivors were children at the time of the their toxic exposure.

“Children, firefighters, construction, and recovery workers, first responders— these people are now dealing with conditions like cancer, chronic respiratory disease, chronic pulmonary obstruction disease, PTSD, anxiety, and depression,” Gillibrand said. “Today more people have died from 9/11 health conditions than died on the day of the attacks. Congress created the World Trade Center Health Program in 2011 to provide medical treatment and monitoring for many of these people but the formula used to calculate how much money would be needed will not keep pace with anticipated costs.”

Mariama James and her family lived in lower Manhattan on 9/11.  She told reporters she has lost both of her parents to their World Trade Center certified conditions.

“Responders and survivors in tri-state area and around the country, some of whom were children and babies at the time of the September 11th attacks, are suffering not just because of those attacks but also because are won government lied to us and put us all in jeopardy when the EPA said the air was safe to breathe,” James said. “Residents were told we shouldn’t be concerned and that we should simply clean toxic dust coating every surface of our apartments with a wet rag.”

James continued. “Children were made to return to school when the area still looked like a war zone. People like my mother were told to return to work, in her case to that notorious Deutsche Bank building on the World Trade Center site that the press were calling a vertical Superfund site. My entire immediate family has been traumatized and made sick. My children and I, including the baby I was carrying in my womb that day, developed conditions we never had prior and are now certified as 9/11 related.  …We were promised treatment through 2090. Now, fund it.”

Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY) lived in lower Manhattan and told reporters he was at home when he watched the second-plane slam into the WTC. The recently elected Congressman also referenced the Environmental Protection Agency’s representation right after the attack and collapse of the World Trade Center, that the air was “safe to breathe.”

“I also won’t forget the promises that were made to the survivors and especially the first responders that Ground Zero… was safe from toxins but now twenty years later we know that promise was false, and we are still dealing 20 years later with the fallout—the medical fallout of that false promise,” Goldman said. “That’s why the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was such a critical and just piece of legislation.”

John Feal, a long time 9/11 WTC Health Program advocate and participant, has made multiple trips to Washington over the last 20 years to lobby on behalf of first responders and survivors in the exposure zone.

“Nowhere in this bill does it say that there over 25,000 people with a certified cancer,” Feal said. “By 2025 there will be 35,000 people with a certified cancer. Nowhere in this bill does it say we double those that died that day. We shouldn’t have to fight. We were…..lied to 20 years ago when they said the air was safe to breathe. We are coming down here–wrap your arms around this people—we are coming down here fighting for health care when we were lied to. Does that make sense?”

Feal continued. “There’s no win here. But there can be justice by getting this done now. Don’t wait until 2027.”

The bill has attracted bi-partisan support which will be vital with the House now under GOP control.

Rep. Andrew Garbarino, (R-NY), one of the bill’s lead sponsors, acknowledged the presence of Jamie Atkinson at the press conference who was only 19 years old on Sept. 11,2001 when he responded to the World Trade Center site as a member of the Bayville Community Ambulance Corps. Atkinson is now the Deputy Coordinator of the Suffolk County Department of Fire and Emergency Services.

“Like so many Americans he did not hesitate to answer the call and headed to Ground Zero to help with the clean-up and rescue efforts,” Garbarino said. “Today he is fighting a very rare stage IV cancer, has had numerous major surgeries, chemotherapy, and has had organs removed. The cost of his medical care is in the millions. We need to fix the shortfall for Jamie and the tens of thousands like him who rely on this program.”

According to a CDC fact sheet, the shortfall in the program, which as of last year had 110,000 participants, was partially the result of a “significant” spike in the number of first responders and survivors who have enrolled for the annual screening and health care.

The program’s costs also substantially increased due to “the number of cancer cases it certifies and treats,” according to the CDC.

“Of the approximately 65,000 WTC Health Program members with at least one certification, almost 24,000 (more than 36 percent) have at least one cancer certification,” the agency disclosed. “The complexity of treating cancer, especially with other co-morbidities, and an aging membership in general, has increased the Program’s health-care costs beyond what was previously estimated.”

Under the program, first responders are guaranteed free screening for life, while civilian survivors must exhibit symptoms of a 9/11 disease or condition for enrollment. While close to 90 percent of the tens of thousands of first responders are enrolled in the WTC Health Program, less than 10 percent of the hundreds of thousands or residents, commuters and students signed up.

 

 

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One response to “NJ Senators Press Effort for Permanent 9/11 WTC Health Program”

  1. Excellent article, Mr. Hennelly. Thank you very much for writing it. As a New Jersey resident and senior non-commissioned officer in the New York Army National Guard I was a responder to the September 11 attack in Manhattan from mid-October, 2001 through January 26, 2002, with duty as swing shift NCOIC of access control at the WTC Recovery Site. Thank you so much to Senators Shumer and Clinton, and Congressman Gerald Nadler of NY for leading the charge to pass the Zadroga Act, and for Senator Menendez, who was my Congressman then, and Congressman Sires, who was NJ Assembly Speaker at the time, representing West New York, NJ, for his strong advocacy of same. While our former Governor who ran the EPA at the time has since apologized for not doing her due diligence in keeping us responders and the proximal public-at-large safe from air-borne and surface contaminated in and near the Pile, she should strongly consider re-focusing her energies away from that gimmicky “Forward” Party with Mr. Yang and and show the same tenacity she showed when she eloquently and forcefully spoke truth to power of Trump’s attempt to steal an election and foment insurrection – and bring the same to bear on ANY Federal legislator who would play politics with the health and well-being of us responders and the civilians who have life-threatening ailments due to exposure to toxins documented to have been in lower Manhattan as a result of 9/11.

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