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One step closer to law

BY Aline Reynolds

Florence Jones, 49, was on the 77th floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower when she saw a large object hurtling through the sky toward the building. Seconds later, she heard a deafening noise, and smoke enveloped her.

She managed to find her way to the stairs. Of the last 25 people who escaped the building before it fell, she was number 18.

She cheated death, but now Jones now has difficulty breathing. In 2008, a doctor detected an abnormality in her left lung that makes her prone to severe allergies.

“It feels like an elephant sitting on my chest,” she said.

She now takes two medications for her respiratory problem.

Jones had a bout with pneumonia in 2008 and has since visited a clinic at Bellevue Hospital every three months for a check-up with an in-house physician.

“It’s kind of like one-stop shopping,” she said of the clinic, which has an array of specialists to treat 9/11-related illnesses.

“You name it, they have it,” she said.

Jones is one of tens of thousands of civilians who were exposed to airborne toxins in the days and months following the attacks. Clinics at Bellevue Hospital, Elmhurst Hospital and Gouverneur Health Care Services were established to provide 9/11 survivors exposed to the airborne toxins with continued treatment and medical monitoring.

The clinics depend almost wholly on Uncle Sam: patients incur no out-of-pocket expenses, and only a small percentage of the medical costs are financed by the city, according to Kimberly Flynn, co-chair of the Community Advisory Committee for the W.T.C. Environmental Health Center, which does outreach and advocacy for 9/11 victims.

“Having to rely on the yearly authorization process throws into doubt whether the programs will have the funding they need to continue,” she said. “The further we get away from 9/11, the harder it is to get the same amount of money authorized the following year.”

These and other 9/11 treatment programs are one step closer to securing annual federal payments for the next eight years. The James Zadroga 9/11 Health Bill and Compensation Act (H.R. 847) passed the House of Representatives by a 268-160 vote last Wednesday, just over 15 months after it was first introduced. The bill now awaits Senate approval. President Obama has pledged to sign it into law if it appears on his desk.

Zadroga offers $3.2 billion in medical monitoring and treatment to residents, workers and students, and expands on the existing program by providing expert treatment to patients.

It also allocates $4.2 billion to reopen the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund that will reimburse victims for economic and job losses — an alternative to filing suit against the city. It provides legal protection to the city and W.T.C. construction firms involved in the dismantling of buildings near Ground Zero.

Community Board 1’s W.T.C. Redevelopment Committee unanimously passed a resolution Monday evening thanking elected officials and community activists for their stalwart campaigning for the bill.

The resolution also calls on the U.S. Senate to build on the successful momentum of the passage of [the Zadroga bill] in the House and strongly urges Senate Democrats and Republicans to work together as soon as they return for the final Senate session of the year.”

An estimated 71,000 people are enrolled in the W.T.C. Health Registry, claiming they had been exposed to toxins. More than 53,000 first responders are currently registered for medical monitoring, and around 36,000 individuals to date have received treatment for 9/11-related illnesses and injuries, mostly federally-funded, according to Congressman Jerrold Nadler’s office.

Nadler and fellow New York representatives Carolyn Maloney, Peter King and Michael McMahon sponsored the bill. It was on the House floor in July, but did not gain a two-thirds majority it needed for passage. Opponents, mainly Republicans, fear the new entitlement program will place an extra burden on American taxpayers.

According to reports, the law’s advocates are already calendaring it for consideration once the politicians return to D.C. from mid-election campaigning, circumventing the typical committee process.

“We’re working closely with Senate majority leader Harry Reid to bring the bill to a vote in the Senate by the end of the year,” said Joe Soldevere, spokesperson for Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney.

Though the bill has yet to go through the Senate, its passage through the House was a major victory in the eyes of its proponents.

“Today, Members of the House put aside politics and made history by voting in favor of justice and care for the first responders and survivors of 9/11,” said Nadler in a statement. “I’m so proud of this victory, and I’m moved by the prospect of finally, after nine long years, delivering what thousands of ailing Americans have been waiting for.”

Local Celebration

Survivors Kathleen Moore and Mary Perillo were on the edge of their seats at O’Hara’s Restaurant and Pub last Wednesday afternoon to watch the play-by-play of the debate on the House floor.  

At around 3:30 p.m., the news was announced.

“I’m jubilant – I couldn’t be happier,” Moore said.

Perillo was temporarily relieved but said she would be on pins and needles again in the days prior to the Senate vote. A resident at 125 Cedar Street, a loft building facing the World Trade Center, Perillo has volunteered to undergo a series of medical exams as part of a heavy metals study. The doctors are testing her lungs, blood and mental health.

Perillo began experiencing shortness of breath again back in July.

“I just want to make sure it’s not anything scary,” she said.  

Uncontrollable coughing sent her twice to the emergency room in 2002. She was also diagnosed with spontaneous asthma, which she said she had never experienced prior to the attacks.

“You just feel it again, that ‘shaking in your boots’ phenomenon,” she said.  

The bill’s namesake

The Zadroga bill is named after N.Y.P.D. detective James Zadroga, who worked at Ground Zero for three weeks following the 9/11 attacks. Zadroga developed flu-like symptoms and respiratory problems in January 2006 and died soon thereafter. Contrary to what was announced in 2006, Zadroga perished from prescription drugs, not directly from health problems caused by dust inhalation in and around Ground Zero.

Still, as, Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand said, “His lungs looked like the lungs of an 80-year-old person. Whatever the immediate cause of death, the fundamental cause of death was his grave respiratory illness, based on all the reports that I’ve read.”