Thursday, December 16, 2010

Zadroga 9/11 Bill In Limbo As Sen. Collins Calls Cops On 9/11 Responders

9/11 responders who are trying to get Congress to get off their collective ass and vote for the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act found themselves facing cops called on them by Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine.
Even before the nine responders had a chance to start visiting senators' offices - where they intended to stay until meeting with lawmakers - they were greeted by Capitol Police, who had been called by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.).

Collins apparently reacted to a story in Thursday's News, which quoted a letter to senators from 9/11 advocate John Feal. It warned that he and others planned to sit in offices until they got meetings - or the police made them leave.

Collins is among the senators the 9/11 community hopes will come over to their side, but her call to authorities left them wondering if they could succeed.

"I'm deeply disappointed in Sen. Collins for calling the Capitol Police, but they welcomed us with open arms," said Feal, although he wound up with a police escort for the first stops on his visit.

"I'm more disappointed that Susan Collins is hiding behind ideology, and now the police, to stop from helping us. And the people she called to stop us are just like us. It's a little ironic."

Officers eventually determined he and his team were not threatening and left them alone.
This is legislation that should have had bipartisan support and passage should have happened long ago. Politicians are playing this issue for political advantage, and the health of the thousands who labored on the Pile for weeks and months following the attacks is an afterthought. Republicans are blocking approval, primarily through parliamentary tactics and claiming that this legislation would get a vote if other legislation, particularly the tax package, is passed first. Democrats aren't blameless here either, as they could have had a clean vote on the Zadroga bill, but instead attached it to the defense bill along with DADT rather than treating the bills separately - increasing the chances of passage.

These are workers who have found that workers compensation isn't working; many of the affected individuals are finding it hard to obtain workers comp claims. For instance, one worker, who claimed he was ill as a result of working as a volunteer on the Pile for 28 days couldn't receive workers comp because the NYS Workers Comp Board didn't find sufficient evidence.

Illnesses resulting from 9/11 exposures (and the resulting cleanup) may not show themselves for years or decades, although some people (some figures may be in the hundreds) have already died from what they and their doctors are saying was 9/11 related illnesses.

The Zadroga Fund would provide additional compensation and would be set up like the general VCF administered by Ken Feinberg. It would further complement the $712 million settlement between the city and plaintiffs who sued over Ground Zero exposures. The Zadroga bill would also provide funding for additional screening and medical studies to track potential diseases resulting from long term exposures.

The causation issue is the biggest hurdle, even if the bill gets passed. The bill includes monitoring, and considering that workers came from all over the country to help recover remains of those murdered on 9/11, a national registry is necessary.

The text of the bill includes screening-eligible criteria, including those who were WTC responders and WTC survivors, and has a WTC registry along with an application process.

As for the number who have reportedly died as a result from exposures, the number may be in the hundreds and as high as 900 according to advocates for the responders:
According to advocates for the responders and their families, approximately 900 people have so far died from ailments contracted while working on the pile, and that first responders are currently dying at a rate of three a month. James Zadroga, a New York City police detective, is the first known Ground Zero responder to die, in 2006, from illness contracted there.
The number who have claimed 9/11 related illnesses is much greater, and among that number, there may be cases that are unrelated to service at Ground Zero - firefighting results in exposure to chemicals and materials that could lead to respiratory ailments or other diseases being seen among those claiming 9/11 related ailments. It's up to the epidemiologists to discern whether the ailments are resulting from exposures at Ground Zero and time exposed at Ground Zero.

Complicating matters is the fact that some personnel opted not to use rebreathers or masks, and others were using inadequate masks, while still others chose not to use the masks on the EPA claiming that the air was safe four days after the attack.

Using the full oxygen masks (carrying the tanks on their backs) greatly reduced time on the pile and some personnel made the decision to forgo the masks perhaps on the basis of claims that the air was clean 4 days after the attacks. You can see from photos later on 9/11 after the collapse that firefighters were already on the pile and in the vicinity of the collapse without masks. Heck, I was walking past the site a few weeks later (while the fires were still burning) without a mask and probably was exposed to some level of contaminants - as was pretty much everyone else who lived downwind of Ground Zero while the recovery efforts were ongoing (and that includes Lower Manhattan, parts of New Jersey and Brooklyn and Staten Island.

The politics that have held up a compensation package has been asinine because as Jon Stewart has said - the politicians will say that these workers were heroes, but now that they need the government's backing to provide assistance in their time of need, the politicians are no where to be found to vote on legislation that would provide a measure of compensation for their service.

I expounded on this back in 2006, when the issue of Ground Zero workers was becoming a major concern. We owe it to these workers to not let them be turned into the US version of the Chernobyl liquidators who were left in the dark about what dangers they were exposed to and the ailments they and their families had to live with and die from.

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