By Ben Fractenberg and Julie Shapiro
DOWNTOWN — A medical advisory panel voted Wednesday to include some forms of cancer under the Zadroga Act, opening the door for thousands of sick 9/11 first responders to get long-awaited compensation.
The panel recommended that the federal government cover cancers affecting the respiratory and digestive systems, along with thyroid cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, eye cancer, oral cavity cancer, urinary tract cancer, mesothelioma, melanoma, leukemia, lymphoma, soft tissue sarcomas and all childhood and rare cancers.
"Today's a victory for the 9/11 community," said John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation and a leading 9/11 responder advocate. "They said we couldn't get the [Zadroga Act] passed and we got the bill passed. They said we couldn’t get cancer included and we got cancer included."
During Wednesday's 4 1/2-hour teleconference, the 15-member World Trade Center Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee voted down a motion to that would have covered all types of cancer and specifically decided to exclude brain, pancreatic and prostate cancer, saying there was not enough evidence that they are connected to 9/11.
Feal said he will still work hard to pressure the federal government to include include all cancers, as well as other ailments affecting recovery workers.
"We still have a lot of work to do," he said.
The World Trade Center advisory panel now has until April 2 to submit its recommendations to the federal government's WTC health program administrator, Dr. John Howard.
Howard then has 60 days to make a final decision about which, if any, cancers will be covered.
If the panel's recommendation is adopted, many 9/11 responders suffering from cancer would be able to receive compensation for their medical treatment, along with their pain and suffering, under the Zadroga Act's $2.8 billion fund.
"It's a big win for the World Trade Center community," said Catherine McVay Hughes, vice chairwoman of Community Board 1 and a member of the advisory panel.
Cancer was not included in the list of ailments originally covered under the act because the federal government did not feel there was enough evidence of a direct link between 9/11 responders inhaling fumes at Ground Zero and then getting cancer some years later.
But first responder advocates and New York politicians argued that new studies show that responders who ingested chemicals like asbestos at have a higher risk of developing cancer.
US Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Carolyn Maloney and Peter King released a statement Wednesday applauding the advisory panel's vote and urging Howard to adopt the recommendations on cancer.
The Zadroga Act was named after first responder James Zadroga, a police officer who died of respiratory problems after inhaling toxic fumes at Ground Zero.