LOWER MANHATTAN — Thousands of 9/11 first responders who are battling cancer will finally start receiving compensation soon, the federal government announced Monday.
Dozens of types of cancer will officially join list of illnesses covered by the $4.3 billion Zadroga Act, in a final rule change that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), officials said.
The federal rule change will allow sick rescue and recovery workers to receive compensation for their cancer treatment as well as pain and suffering for the first time in the 11 years since the attacks.
"The publication of this final rule marks an important step in the effort to provide needed treatment and care to 9/11 responders and survivors through the WTC Health Program," Dr. John Howard, the program's administrator, said in a statement.
The Zadroga Act initially did not cover any cancers, because the federal government did not see a clear link between the illnesses and Ground Zero toxins.
But after new research showed increased cancer rates among those who were caught in the dust cloud or worked on the smoking wreckage in the weeks that followed, NIOSH ruled last June that the federal government ought to cover about 50 types of cancer — including cancers affecting the respiratory and digestive systems, 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.
The public had a chance to comment over the summer on the addition of cancer to the Zadroga Act.
"This is monumental," said John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation and a leading advocate for 9/11 cancer coverage. "It's hard to celebrate today when so many people are sick and so many people have died from their illnesses, but this is a victory for the 9/11 community."
First responders with cancer will be eligible for free medical treatment and will able to file a claim under the $2.8 billion Victim Compensation Fund. Those who are sick could begin receiving compensation as soon as later this fall, but the bulk of the money will not be distributed until 2016, to ensure everyone gets a fair share of the funds.
Once cancer is officially added to the Zadroga Act, 9/11 responder advocates plan to return to Congress to fight for more funding for those who are sick and to extend the act past its current expiration in 2016.
"We have a lot more work to do," Feal said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg cautioned the decision would likely create new problems related to who gets the money and how much.
“It will be difficult because you only have a certain amount of money in the insurance fund,” he said during an unrelated press conference on the Upper East Side Monday
“A lot of the people who will have these cancers, or maybe even have them now, they haven’t been diagnosed yet. So we don’t know what the demand for the pool down the road [will be].”
Bloomberg added that individuals will get less money based on the increased numbers of people qualifying for the funds.
“It’s a finite amount of money,” he added. “Unless you believe the federal government’s going to vote us more money. And to do that, you probably would have to believe in the tooth fairy as well.”