James Zadroga's family and union released his autopsy results Tuesday, saying they were proof of the first death of a city police officer related to cleanup work at ground zero after the terrorist attacks.
"It is felt with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the cause of death in this case was directly related to the 9/11 incident," wrote Gerard Breton, a pathologist at the Ocean County (New Jersey) medical examiner's office in the Feb. 28 autopsy.
A class action lawsuit and families of ground zero workers have alleged that more than two dozen deaths are related to exposure to trade center dust, which doctors believe contained a number of toxic chemicals including asbestos and more than 1 million tons of tower debris.
The Zadrogas have not filed a lawsuit in connection with the death or their son, and have no intention of doing so,. They hope to highlight the plight of other ground zero workers who have fallen ill.
Zadroga, of Little Egg Harbor, N.J., died in January of respiratory failure and had inflammation in his lung tissue due to "a history of exposure to toxic fumes and dust," Breton wrote.
The detective spent 470 hours after the attacks sifting through the twin towers' smoldering ruins, wearing a paper mask for protection.
Shortly after finishing his rescue and recovery work at the World Trade Center, Zadroga developed a chronic cough, shortness of breath and acid reflux, Smith reported. He was plagued by nightmares and headaches. Within months, he needed oxygen tanks, antibiotics and steroid injections on a regular basis. He retired on disability in November 2004.
James, who was 6 feet 2 and weighed more than 260 pounds before getting sick, had lost more than 40 pounds by the time his father found him dead on his bedroom floor in the family home Jan. 5, Smith said.
The coroner found material "consistent with dust" in Zadroga's lungs and damage to his liver and said his heart and spleen were enlarged.
Zadroga's parents and 4-year-old daughter, Tylerann, appeared at a news conference with half a dozen other detectives who said they have suffered from cancer, strokes, lung disease and other ailments because of post-Sept. 11 work at the trade center site.
"They all knew it was detrimental to their health," said Joseph Zadroga, James Zadroga's father. "They all knew that, yet they stayed there."
Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives' Endowment Association told Smith in February that while Zadroga became the first NYPD officer to die as a direct result of exposure to Ground Zero's cocktail of chemicals, "I do not think he will be the last, unfortunately."
Dr. David Prezant, co-director of the New York Fire Department's World Trade Center medical program, conducted a lung function study of 13,000 firefighters, EMTs and paramedics. He said that after Sept. 11, the average breathing capacity of the people tested dropped more than 11 times the normal aging process.
Prezant told Smith that many questions remain about what could lurk down the road for emergency responders, especially latent diseases such as cancer, and encouraged more funding to maintain monitoring programs.
Doctors running health screening programs, including a city registry following more than 71,000 people, say it will take decades to truly assess the health effects of working at the trade center site.
A spokesman for the registry did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.