Now that Zadroga is law, all signs point to a need for clarity

BY John Bayles

First responder John Feal was supposed to be at 250 Broadway on Monday, February 14, testifying at a hearing on the complexities of the James R. Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Feal, a founding member of the FealGood Foundation, is credited as one of the major advocates whose dedication to the bill eventually led to it becoming law.

But when the hearing was called to order at 1 p.m. Feal was nowhere to be found. Five minutes later, Catherine McVay Hughes, Feal’s friend and chair of Community Board 1’s W.T.C. Redevelopment Committee received a text message.

It was from Feal and it read, “I’m not going to make it. I’m at the ICU with a first responder. He’s really sick. He’s about to die.”

Another text message followed Feal’s, which let McVay Hughes know about the passing of fellow Community Board 1 member Pat Moore’s husband, Andy Jurinko. Jurinko had been suffering from pancreatic cancer that had moved to his liver.

McVay Hughes relayed both messages to the city council in her testimony that afternoon.

Councilmember Chin said she was touched upon hearing the news of Jurinko’s death. Chin also noted the synchronicity revealed during the hearing, much of which was spent discussing why cancer is not included as one of the 9/11 related illness in the Zadroga legislation. She alluded to the fact that Jurinko’s cancer could have been connected.

“They don’t want to say it, but we all know,” said Chin.

Moore however admits that no one will ever know for sure if her husband’s cancer was directly connected to 9/11. What she does know is that she and her husband spent nine months in their apartment, which was located right across Liberty Street from the falling Twin Towers, shoveling debris and trying to clean up. Over a year after the attacks, the Environmental Protection Agency finally paid a visit to their building and Moore and Jurinko were told to “get out.”

“They kicked us out and said it’s too dangerous for you to be in here,” recalled Moore.

Moore said they had received no instructions as to how to protect themselves while removing the debris.

“All we know, is that we were getting the same sort of exposure as the first responders,” said Moore.

Last week’s hearing including members of the Committees on Civil Service and Labor, Lower Manhattan Redevelopment, and Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse and Disability Services.

Various members of the city council came and went during the hearing, which was intended to brief council members on recent research on 9/11 related illnesses and the Zadroga law.

McVay Hughes said the hearing was “useful because it highlighted the fact that there are still some issues that need to be worked out” such as gaps in coverage when it comes to the W.T.C. Healthcare Program included in the newly passed 9/11 Healthcare law.

One such “gap” is the fact that cancer is not currently on the list.

During the hearing Chin brought up the idea of preventative care and wellness. She believes that while the research on cancer is still slow coming due to the latency period involved, much could be done to educate those who believe they are at risk. And there is a contingency clause in the new legislation that does allow for new illnesses, like cancer, to be added to the list.

McVay Hughes is now shifting her advocacy on the issue to a public forum being held Thursday, March 3, at the Javits Center. The forum is being sponsored by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, and was organized by U.S. Representatives Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler, and Peter King, authors of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

“This is the most important event on the horizon,” said McVay Hughes, “where folks can express their concerns about illnesses covered and not covered under the W.T.C. Health Program section of the Zadroga Act.”

McVay Hughes stressed however that the evening will only focus on the W.T.C. Healthcare Program aspect of the law and not the Victims Compensation Fund portion. Because there are both time restrictions and space limitations, McVay Hughes wants people to be able to ask as many questions as possible and not take up time by focusing on the Victims Compensation Fund. She hopes another forum will take place in the coming months to address that portion of the law.

“If someone is concerned about different types of cancers and whether they may be added to the list of illnesses covered [under the W.T.C. Health Program portion], this is their chance to express their concerns,” said McVay Hughes.