Notes from the NIOSH Zadroga Meeting at 26 Federal Plaza (3/3/11)

Executive Director Chris Owens here, reporting from 26 Federal Plaza on Thursday, March 3rd. 
 
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health held a "speak out" session for members of the 9/11 victim community.  The context is the passage of The Zadroga Act (James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010), federal legislation that creates a new victims' compensation fund for individuals harmed on 9/11 and thereafter, including residents within a specified geographic area. 
 
The goal of the session was to provide NIOSH with more information from the community regarding aspects of Title I of the legislation, including potential gaps and problems with the legislation's provisions regarding health conditions, their evaluation, and their treatment.  Unfortunately, the generation of these guidelines may take another three or more months.
 
Numerous victims spoke to the NIOSH panelists, sharing heart-rending stories of illnesses and incapacity endured by family members and friends.  A particular concern was the potential exclusion of cancer as a health condition deserving of consideration for compensation.  Our Board member, Mike Kenny, celebrated his 49th birthday today by describing the personal hell he endured after working at the World Trade Center site.  
 
Mike Kenny is sick through and through.  But he is still here — doing great work with organized labor — and grateful for it.  Many others are not still here.  Even more are sick and either do not understand why or are not able to get help.  Mike, like many others today, spoke eloquently and forcefully about individual pain and the pain of an entire community. 
 
Several speakers spoke about the lack of outreach to communities beyond Manhattan regarding Zadroga-related developments, including Rev. Terry Lee of Brooklyn.  We at Advocates for Justice certainly hope to help change that.  And both Rev. Lee and attorney Joel Kupferman discussed the reluctance of many immigrants who are also victims to speak out about their situation.  We hope to change this as well.
 
There will be many challenges surrounding this legislation and its implementation.  The funding is one issue (How much of the fund should be spent on administrative and outreach functions, as opposed to patient care?  Will the Republicans allow any additional funds to be allocated to cover those costs?)  Another issue is the relative ignorance of many medical providers.  They need more comprehensive information and training, and more data is needed to ensure that conditions are linked properly.  This also includes the cancer issue; cancer needs to be covered properly by this legislation. 
 
And outreach will always be a sensitive issue.  For example, while I was at the session (the morning portion), not a single resident of Chinatown spoke.  I only saw two Asian people in the audience.  On 911, the toxic matter "marched" across the East River through Brooklyn and Staten Island — yet there were very few Brooklynites present and testifying.  We've got work to do.
 
Many speakers had worked with or were affiliated with The FealGood Foundation, which has done outstanding work in providing support to victims and their families as well as important advocacy.  A staff member was representing U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney, one of the Congressmembers who had requested this session (along with Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Peter King), and there was also a staff member from the office of U.S. Senator Kirstin Gillibrand — New York State's junior Senator who earned megapoints by pushing the Zadroga Bill through to its passage.
 
Do you know someone who has suffered or who is still suffering from 9-11 injuries, physical or psychological?  Now is the time for us to reach out and help people get some of the help they deserve.
 
(BTW, it's not too late to submit written testimony to NIOSH.  You can post testimony to the electronic NIOSH Docket #226 by clicking here.  We would also like to welcome our newest Advocate for Justice – intern Chantel Rodriguez – who was very helpful during today's meeting.  Ms. Rodriguez will be attending law school next fall.)