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September 11th, 2012
06:42 AM ET

WTC Health Program director on Zadroga Act cancer coverage: 'A historic decision' for first responders who showed 'a very American sense of altruism'

First responders celebrate a victory today on the commemoration of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Yesterday federal health authorities added 58 types of cancers to the list of covered illnesses by the Zadroga Act for people who worked at Ground Zero. Dr. Benjamin Luft, Director of the World Trade Center Health Program at Stony Brook, NY, comes to “Early Start” this morning to discuss the development. His center provides health services and treatment for First Responders. 

“This is really a historic decision,” Dr. Luft says. He says people are continuing to develop cancers and it’s uncertain how many people this decision will ultimately help. “What this really establishes, that the environment wasn’t safe at Ground Zero and that there was a very significant toxic exposure to a variety of carcinogens” Dr. Luft says. As a result of all the equipment pulverized and burnt in the World Trade Center, “there was a tremendous number of organic toxins that were in the air and in the environment,” Dr. Luft explains.

Dr. Luft also reflects on the diversity of the First Responders who put themselves at risk. Firemen and policemen were joined by ordinary citizens. “They were construction workers, laborers, undocumented workers. All of these people came together to respond, and they did so without any thought as to what the long-term consequences were,” Dr. Luft says. “It was a real example of a very American sense of altruism.”

“I think it’s so important to understand that 11 years later,” he says, “as many as 20% continue to suffer from various psychiatric issues, psychological issues, like post-traumatic stress.” He stresses that 2,700 people died gruesome deaths on 9/11. “This is a tremendous insult to someone’s psyche and this is what they continue to recollect for so many years later,” Dr. Luft says.

He hopes that the program continues to be funded so that First Responders could be treated. “This program is only funded for about three more years,” he says. “And it requires Congress to set aside more funds for it to be able to go on.”

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