No More Delays

December 21, 2010

In the past week we have been treated to the unedifying spectacle of U.S. Senators blocking the passage of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 (H.R.847) until the Bush tax cut debate was concluded to their satisfaction. Even with the tax cut issue settled, the Zadroga Bill (or as Jon Stewart memorably put it on The Daily Show “the least we can do no brainer act of 2010”) still languishes on the Senate’s to do list.

The lack of urgency with which this bill has been treated by Congress and the mainstream media is a national disgrace. Politicians who do not hesitate to wrap themselves in the flag and invoke the memory of 9/11 for their own selfish purposes are playing petty politics with the lives of men and women that sacrificed everything to answer their country’s call in one of its darkest hours.

Last Thursday Senator Susan Collins (R- ME) even called Capitol police when she was alarmed to learn that a group of 9/11 first responders planned to camp out in Senate offices until they garnered the necessary 60 votes to secure the bill’s passage.

Named after New York Police Detective and 9/11 responder James Zadroga, whose death was among the first attributed to the cocktail of toxins generated at Ground Zero, the bill seeks to extend and improve the federal government’s response to the health effects of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 by providing for long-term medical treatment, compensation, and research. You can find out more about the bill by clicking on this link.

This is a subject close to my heart. My brother-in-law is a New York City firefighter who lost many close friends on 9/11 and spent countless hours down at Ground Zero during the recovery operation, my wife spent months there as a social worker working with families and first responders in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

The Bush administration treated the lives of New York’s finest with cavalier disdain. While senior cabinet officials were still hiding out in undisclosed locations, on September 13, 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a press release which stated that the air around the disaster site was relatively safe and that short-term, low-level exposure was “unlikely to cause significant health effects.”

We now know that this wasn’t the case. In February 2006 US District Court Judge Deborah A. Batts found that the “reassuring and misleading statements of safety after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks” made by EPA Chief Christine Todd Whitman were “without question conscience-shocking.” The EPA’s internal watchdog reached a similar conclusion.

Judge Batts added that the federal government’s dismissive attitude to the potential health risks at Ground Zero increased, “and may have in fact created,” the danger to first responders posed by the hazardous materials released by the disaster.

The federal government owes it to those first responders and volunteers who answered the call on 9/11, and in the weeks and months that followed, to do everything it can to help them in their hour of need. We all do.

The brave men and women of 9/11 who are struggling with health issues arising from their service should be focused on getting better and not worrying about lost income, fretting about rising healthcare costs and being nickled and dimed by extortionate co-pays.

As New York firefighters say, at Ground Zero all gave some, some gave all. These genuine American heroes deserve our respect, and they deserve our support. Call on your senator today pass this act before the end of the lame duck session.