Zadroga advocates dismayed by cancelled conference call

BY ALINE REYNOLDS  |  Federally subsidized cancer treatment is still the number one topic of discussion within the 9/11 health community.

Thanks to the push of advocates and politicians, it has also become a major talking point of the recently formed World Trade Center Health Program Scientific and Technical Advisoary Committee, which scheduled a teleconference for Tuesday, Jan. 24 with 9/11 responders and volunteers, Downtown residents and physicians, and anyone else that wished to call in. Participants planned to discuss the possible addition of cancer to the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act and health treatment eligibility criteria for first responders that assisted in the Sept. 11 plane crashes at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, among other topics.

Minutes before the teleconference was slated to begin that afternoon, however, the virtual meeting was unexpectedly aborted because of a glitch in the government’s phone system.

“Due to technical difficulties, we were unable to use the call-in phone number, and it unfortunately caused us to cancel the meeting at the last minute,” said Christina Spring, a spokesperson for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which was charged with coordinating the logistics of the meeting since it oversees the health portion of the Zadroga bill.

Rescheduling the teleconference doesn’t appear to be feasible, according to S.T.A.C. Chair Elizabeth Ward.

“There was obviously a serious technical problem. It’s just really unfortunate,” said Ward. “I’m optimistic that if we can’t have a teleconference, we’ll be able to catch up and accomplish what we need to in the S.T.A.C. meeting,” which she noted is scheduled for mid-February and will have teleconference capabilities.

This was hardly reassuring, however, to 9/11 health advocate John Feal, who had corralled 50 first responders and recovery workers to the NYC Police Museum in order to partake in Tuesday’s teleconference.

“It was unprofessional,” said Feal of the mishap. “They should have had a ‘Plan B’ or done a test the day before to ensure the phones were working properly. This is a serious issue to us and we find it to be disrespectful that they couldn’t find a way to communicate with us.”

The primary goal of the conference was to shed greater light on possible ties between certain forms of cancer and the aftermath of Sept. 11, according to S.T.A.C. member and Chair of Community Board 1’s W.T.C. Redevelopment Committee Catherine McVay Hughes. “We’re hoping to create a dialogue of the association between W.T.C. exposure and cancer, and to create the framework for the government’s second periodic review of cancer studies,” she said. On behalf of Community Board 1, Hughes introduced a resolution this week that cites multiple cancer studies dating back to 2008 and that urges the committee to “strongly” consider the emerging medical evidence of cancer among 9/11 responders and survivors.

The debate on whether to add cancer to the bill percolated last summer when N.I.O.S.H. director Dr. John Howard vetoed the addition of the disease to the list of eligible illnesses covered by the law, claiming there was insufficient evidence to do so. Howard’s decision sparked a wave of fierce pushback that included a September 7 petition from the New York State delegation.

Howard promised at the time that N.I.O.S.H. would release a second review based on scientific studies published since last summer in early-to-mid 2012, though he hasn’t since disclosed exactly when the review will come out. In the meantime, he is soliciting a formal recommendation from the S.T.A.C. to review the available scientific data and make its own assessment about the prospect of granting federally subsidized care to 9/11 victims with certain forms of cancer.

The S.T.A.C. is expected to vote on the issue at the February meeting and is required by N.I.O.S.H. to submit the recommendation by March 2. “We’re not necessarily required to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” explained Ward. “We can respond with the best advice we think we can give at that time.”

Ward continued, “The issues related to the long-term health effects of exposures that occurred in and around at the W.T.C. are scientifically complex and evolving, particularly as new studies and information becomes available. One of the roles of the advisory committee is to respond to issues as they arise, bring our various perspectives to the evidence, and draw conclusions based on the data that we have.” Ultimately, however, all decisions pertaining to the Zadroga bill rest in the hands of of Dr. Howard.

Feal and other 9/11 victims and health advocates are closely watching from the sidelines and continue to press for definitive, immediate action. “They’re playing God right now,” said Feal of the S.T.A.C. “You know the saying, ‘It’s better late than never?’ Here’s a chance for them to prove it.”

In the meantime, N.I.O.S.H. has begun to finance scientific research of cancer and other health conditions thought to be linked to 9/11 exposure. The law directly allocates $15 million for the cause in 2012 alone. “Until the law was passed, there was really no [federal] money set aside specifically for promoting research,” noted N.I.O.S.H. Spokesperson Fred Blosser. Of the $15 million, $11.25 million is available for new research projects, while the remaining sum will continue to fund eight studies that were budgeted last year, including one being conducted by Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and another by the FDNY.

Meanwhile, Feal vows that he and his supported wouldn’t rest until cancer is incorporated in the bill. “If they choose not to,” he said, “don’t worry about Occupy Wall Street; it’s going to be, ‘Occupy Ground Zero.’”

For a more detailed agenda of the S.T.A.C.’s February meeting, visit in the coming days.

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10 Responses to Zadroga advocates dismayed by cancelled conference call

  1. I am a cancer survivor from the 9/11 Fresh Kills land fill in Staten Island. I was assigned as a Detective from the NYPD to sift and search through the debris in Staten Island at the Fresh Kills. The brave detectives and officers from the NYPD and other agencies spent over 10 MONTHS to a year at the site. This land fill was restricted and CONDEMNED unfit for access to the general public prior to 9/11.u00a0nnPrior to 9/11 it was closed for toxicity levels of many chemicals and gases from the site. The drinking water was deemed to be unsafe. If you doubt this, ask the surrounding public in that area. There were studies that asked that the water not be used due to chemical seepage and contamination.u00a0nnAfter Sept. 11th 2001 it was reopened u00a0for debris removal and disposal from the world trade center wreckage. There were pipes constructed from the ground for gas release of the underground gases. At times when it rained, the ground would "BUBBLE"……yes, "BUBBLE" that would released gases from below ground. Please understand what happened as mixing the debris from 9/11, plus the already toxic liquids, air and gases from Fresh Kills site mixed together at this location. This was a very dangerous " Toxic Storm" environment . Again we spent close to a year at this site…I consider myself lucky to survive my cancer (Lymphoma). However, there are other first responders as well as land fill workers that have since DIED since the events of that tragic day, and the work done at Fresh Kills.u00a0In my opinion we all, either public and private personnel wanted to help the city of New York. u00a0We all did our work without hesitation….Its now the time for these illness, and CANCERS be included in the ZADROGA ACT.u00a0If we don't take care of u00a0own, we are giving the terrorists exactly what they wanted….the suffering and death of u00a0patriotic persons from New York and other parts of this country make up our great nation known as "America"…….

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