Government to cover cancer health care costs for 9/11 responders and victims

(CBS News) On the day before the 11th anniversary of the attack on America, the government made a big change to a health program for those who got sick after working at ground zero in New York. Dozens of kinds of cancer have been added to the treatment list.

For three years, firefighter Ray Pfeiffer has been saying the hundreds of hours he worked in choking dust on the pile of the World Trade Center had something to do with his advanced kidney cancer. He welcomed today's announcement.

"It's like a vindication saying hey listen, you know, we're recognized that we were down there that we did get sick from down there," Pfeiffer explained. "It's a little bit of a relief."

Gov't will fund care for 50 type of cancers linked to 9/11 under Zadroga act

Last year the World Trade Center health program was granted $1.5 billion over five years to treat and monitor about 40,000 people who worked in toxic conditions following the attacks.

The program covers lung diseases, asthma and chronic cough as well as mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression - but, until today, not cancer.

The decision adds a wide range of cancers to the official roster of World Trade Center-related health conditions. The list includes cancer of the lung, breast and colon, as well as leukemia and lymphoma.

Although cheered by first responder groups, today's decision comes without additional financing.

"A lot of guys have died since we started," said T.J. Gilmartin, a mason who worked in the debris. "We're not going to give up. We'll have to go back to Washington again to get more money into the fund."

Today, Pfeiffer hosted his annual lunch for some of the men he worked with at ground zero.

"A lot of people have gotten sick and they need to be recognized too," he said.

It's not been proven that toxic exposure can cause all these cancers. But, the committee advising the government pointed out that about 70 known and possible carcinogens were present in that toxic plume so the panel is giving those first responders the benefit of the doubt.

It's impossible to know how much money is required to fund care for the additional conditions. It is still unknown how many out of the 40,000 ground zero workers will eventually develop diseases because of their involvement. An attorney representing the responders said that $1.5 billion is not nearly enough, and there needs to be at least $3 to $5 billion available.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook

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