NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A stunning reversal by federal health regulators will affect tens of thousands of people who got cancer after living and working near Ground Zero. Their treatment could soon be covered by the 9/11 victims compensation fund.
The long tug-of-war with the federal government over whether dust, smoke and fumes at Ground Zero caused cancer for tens of thousands of people who lived and worked near the site of the terror attack is finally at an end.
1010 WINS' Terry Sheridan With More On The Story
Federal officials ruled Friday that people who suffer from 50 individual cancers in 14 broad categories could soon be compensated.
WCBS 880's Marla Diamond Reports
FDNY firefighter Ray Pfeiffer, who has stage-4 kidney cancer, is finally getting the news he and thousands of other 9/11 survivors have waited years for.
"It's been a long time coming," Pfeiffer told CBS 2's Derricke Dennis. "You spent time down in the pile, over 2,500 different toxins, each one could have gave me the cancer."
"This is a great step forward for the men and women who risked their lives to save others -- for the residents, the survivors who worked on the toxic piles," Rep. Carolyn Maloney told CBS 2's Marcia Kramer.
Congresswoman Maloney has led the fight to convince federal health officials that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between the people who lived and worked near the pile and the cancers they got.
"It certainly will give them the medical care that they so desperately deserve," Maloney said. "It became a very personal goal for me to help them and give them support."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg also released a statement saying: "Together with our allies, New York City pushed for periodic reviews of the medical evidence to ensure that all those ill from exposure to the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks receive the care they need."
"Cancers [have] clearly been an issue in individuals exposed to the pit. They've sort of been in this never, never land of not being sure whether it's related to it and most importantly not having resources to pay for it and this really opens the door," Dr. Jack DeHovitz, Professor of Medicine at SUNY Downstate Medical Center told 1010 WINS.
In the days, weeks and months after the World Trade towers fell, rescue personnel, construction workers and others labored in a haze of toxic smoke, dusty cement and known carcinogens like asbestos, benzene, PCB's and dioxin.
The decision overturns previous determinations that there was little evidence to link cancers to the toxins found at Ground Zero.
It covers cancers of the:
- Respiratory system
- Digestive system
- Oral cavity
- Urinary tract
- Blood cancers
- Soft tissue sarcomas
- Certain childhood cancers
It means that people with the diseases can file claims with the $4.3 billion victim compensation fund set up by Congress. Some worry that the additional claimants will reduce the amount of money any one person can receive.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said that's not so.
"We assumed when we were drafting the bill that these diseases would be covered so all of the illnesses that have been so far approved were already in mind when we drafted the bill. So the costs that are already set aside for these members of these families are already there," Gillibrand said.
The ruling doesn't mean people can file claims immediately. The government has to allow for public comment before the proposal takes effect.
Sources told CBS 2 they expect final approval before the 11th anniversary of the attacks in September.
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