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Senators Seek Funds For Sick 9/11 Workers

New York and New Jersey lawmakers are asking Congress to provide $12 billion in long-term medical care and monitoring to thousands of Sept. 11 workers who became sick after being exposed to toxic dust and debris at the World Trade Center site.

The bill, introduced Wednesday in the Senate, would reopen until 2031 a compensation fund for those who became ill after a 2003 deadline. It also would expand research of their illnesses and extend medical care to ailing workers who live outside of New York.

"We have an undeniable, morale obligation to provide them with health and treatment they deserve," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., at a Capitol Hill news conference attended by Sept. 11 workers and other New York and New Jersey lawmakers.

Nearly 16,000 responders and 2,700 community members are sick and receiving treatment, Gillibrand said.

Similar legislation failed last year, partly because New York City officials objected to paying a share of the costs. Under the senators' plan, the cost to New York would not exceed $250 million over a decade, which is half of what it would have paid over that period under legislation that was rejected last year.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who attended the press conference, said he supports the legislation, but still has concerns about the cost to the city.

"This is an attack against the entire country," Bloomberg said. "I think it's a national problem."

Other legislation has been proposed in the House. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said she's confident it will be passed by the upcoming eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The bill was named for James Zadroga, a retired city detective who became ill after working hundreds of hours at ground zero. Zadroga, who died of lung disease at 34 in 2006, was declared killed in the line of duty by the NYPD. But the city medical examiner's office ruled that Zadroga's abuse of prescription drugs exacerbated his lung disease and declined to list him as an official Sept. 11 victim.

Despite the medical examiner's ruling, the city's former medical examiner, Dr. Michael Baden, disputed the claim. Baden told in 2007 that Zadroga's death was indeed linked to his exposure to the toxic debris at ground zero.

"There's no evidence of any drug addiction," Baden said, who added that all the evidence supports that Zadroga "died of chronic lung disease caused by the inhalation of dust" at the ground zero site.

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