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Jon Stewart, 9/11 First Responders Call On Congress To Renew Zadroga Act

WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork) -- Former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart led the charge on Capitol Hill as firefighters, police officers and ground zero recovery workers called on Congress to extend the Zadroga Act.

Dozens boarded buses in Lower Manhattan on Wednesday morning to head to Washington to demand the 9/11 Health and Compensation Fund be renewed and made permanent.

"I want to apologize to all the men and women, the first responders, that you had to come down here today," Stewart said. "I'm embarrassed that you, after serving so selflessly with such heroism, have to come down here and convince people to do what's right."

Jon Stewart, 9/11 First Responders Call On Congress To Renew Zadroga Act

Stewart issued a warning saying, "On the Hill, you will be exposed to possibly toxic levels of bull----."

When asked how confident he is that Congress will act, Stewart told CBS2's Weijia Jiang, "I can't prognosticate. I have not heard any reason why they shouldn't."

Roger Alles of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association said the government owes this coverage to everyone who was in Lower Manhattan after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"Do you remember when the government told us that the air was safe to breathe?" Alles asked the crowd, which promptly responded "yes." "I do, too."

Jon Stewart, 9/11 First Responders Call On Congress To Renew Zadroga Act

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said several studies concluded which cancers are linked to toxins that were released on 9/11.

"We know exactly who is sick, why they're sick," Gillibrand said, adding 1,700 people have already died from 9/11-related illnesses.

New York City firefighter Robert Tilearcil rushed to the World Trade Center. Then, he got sick.

"It's actually cancer. I had brain surgery on May 4," he told Jiang.

Tilearcil pays for hefty hospital bills with the help of the Zadroga Act.

"It's time for Congress to get off its butt and do its job," Alles said.

"We need it now," Tilearcil added. "We shouldn't have to be here begging for it."

So far, close to 3,000 have developed cancers and researchers expect that number to rise.

More than 12,000, including residents and workers from lower Manhattan, receive some sort of compensation for 9/11-related illnesses.

The current 9/11 health legislation is due to expire in October.

"Buckle your seatbelts and let's get this done," Stewart said.

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