Council Members Surprised That Zadroga Law Won't Help Cancer Victims

Cancer victims who believe their illness was caused by exposure to World Trade Center dust and debris are not slated to get any help from the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act that passed late last year.

The news came as a surprise to several City Council members during a briefing of several committees Monday on the federal legislation and the most recent research regarding 9/11 illnesses.

"At least at the present time, there's no support for those who develop cancer through this Zadroga Bill or any other source?" asked Councilman G. Oliver Koppell.

"A person would have to access their private health insurance, if they have it," answered Tamiru Mammo, the mayor's Senior Adviser on Health Policy. "And if they don't have it, then through the public health system."

Mammo said that the Administrator of the Zadroga Act in theory could add cancer to the list of covered illnesses. But that person -- who hasn't been appointed yet -- only has six months to finalize what gets covered and what doesn't. Such a decision would also have to be approved by a scientific panel, and it's not considered likely that there will be enough scientific evidence to support including cancer as a 9/11 illness.

Activist Catherine McVay Hughes said officials in Washington won't have current data on which to base their decision because the government is working off health research that's a few years old.

"The cancer registry data -- the most current available online -- is from 2007," McVay-Hughes said."Clearly, we're in 2011. There's a multi-year lag."

Council members repeatedly asked one Health Department official about the cancer connection, given all the news reports and anecdotal evidence that it's killing people who worked at Ground Zero. She replied several times that it's too soon to establish a pattern, but that people who worked or lived near the Twin Towers site should monitor their health closely. She also said cancer is the second leading cause of death in New York State -- implying that many people would die of the disease, regardless of exposure.

The lack of a clear cause-and-effect connection is why Congress intentionally omitted cancer from the list of ailments eligible both for health coverage and for victims compensation -- the two main parts of the Zadroga law. Several backers of the bill wanted it to include cancer, but with the bill's passage precarious, stripping the provision was an important compromise.