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9/11 workers celebrate victory over addition of cancer coverage but concerned about funding

People walk through dust and debris from collapse of World Trade Center
People walk through dust and debris from collapse of World Trade Center towers after terrorist attack, New York City, on Sept. 11, 2011. AP Photo

(CBS News) Monday's announcement that the government would add about 50 types of cancer to the list of 9/11-related illnesses that's health care costs would be covered has provided relief for what many are calling an overdue decision. But, the announcement also raised concerns over the amount of available funds for suffers and families.

Government to cover cancer health care costs for 9/11 responders and victims
Government will fund care for 50 types of cancers linked to 9/11 under Zadroga Act
60 Minutes: The Dust At Ground Zero

On the eve of the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the National Institute for Occupational Safety (NIOSH) announced it would cover the cancer care for responders and other victims exposed to the toxic dust at ground zero who developed cancers including lung, breast colon, and leukemia and lymphoma. The program had previously only covered lung diseases, asthma and chronic cough along with mental health illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

"The publication of this final rule marks an important step in the effort to provide needed treatment and care to 9/11 responders and survivors through the WTC Health Program," NIOSH director Dr. John Howard said in a statement to the Associated Press.


In June, officials at NIOSH had said in a filing that it favored a major expansion of the program, known as the Zadroga Act, to include people with the different cancer types that span 14 broad categories of the disease. The decision followed a March recommendation by an advisory committee made up of doctors, union officials and community health advocates, who recommended that cancer be added to the program. While a definitive link between the toxic exposure causing these cancers hasn't been definitely shown, the NIOSH committee said the dust contained about 70 known and possible carcinogens.

Firefighter Ray Pfeiffer, who had been saying for years that the hundreds of hours he worked at ground zero had something to do with his advanced kidney cancer, told the CBS Evening News that he welcomed the 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."

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 CBS Evening News reported that it's not possible to know how much money is required to fund care for the additional conditions or how many out of the 40,000 ground zero workers will eventually develop diseases. An attorney representing the responders said that $1.5 billion is not nearly enough, and called for at least $3 to $5 billion in available funds.

"There simply isn't enough money," Michael Barasch, an attorney representing hundreds of rescue workers, told CBS New York. "There are so many rescue workers with debilitating diseases and they're simply not going to get a fair amount."

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the New York Post that families of 9/11 victims should expect less compensation in light of the government's announcement.

"Unless you believe the federal government is going to vote us more money - and I think to do that you probably have to believe in the tooth fairy as well - it looks like we have to deal with just this amount," Bloomberg said. "It's just a finite amount of money."

Jennifer McNamara agrees there is more to be done. Her husband John was a first responder who spent more than 500 hours at ground zero and later died of an aggressive colon cancer in August 2009.

(Watch Jennifer McNamara discuss her husband's story on the left.)

At the time, she criticized to about the failure to acknowledge a connection between 9/11 and cancer and the government's refusal to fund treatments. She said one of her husband's dying wishes was to have officials admit such a link.

Reached by HealthPop following the government's new decision, McNamara called it a "bittersweet day."

"Cancer is finally covered, which means the world to me and a lot of people," she said. "Sadly there were a lot of people who died not knowing their family would be taken care of."

McNamara however added the issue is "not by any means over" given the finite funding source.

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

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