Remembering James Zadroga and His Lasting Legacy

There were many heroes on September 11, 2001. There were, of course, the firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, doctors, and nurses. Many were people who worked in the WTC and who guided colleagues and strangers alike down flights of stairs, who stopped to pick up a stranger overcome by the choking toxic dust, and then there were the truck drivers, sanitation workers, and volunteers who helped with the massive cleanup. Over Shanksville, Pennsylvania, there were the passengers who stormed a cockpit to prevent one more terrorist act, and at the Pentagon, citizens and military personnel carried the wounded on their backs through smoke and flames to get them to safety.

We may never know the names of every person who exhibited courage and compassion in the face of horror and tragedy on 9/11, but there are some whose names are now part of a legacy that has helped and continues to help tens of thousands.

Who was James Zadroga?

James Zadroga was the first NYPD officer whose death was attributed to contact with the toxic dust from the WTC collapse. But more than that, he was a father, a husband, and a son.

NYPD Detective James Zadroga grew up in North Arlington, New Jersey—where his dad was the town’s police chief. In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, he was reassigned to WTC recovery and cleanup, where he put in more than 500 hours of work. By December of 2001, he was experiencing severe breathing difficulties. He transferred to Manhattan South Homicide division, yet his condition continued to worsen. By 2004, he could no longer work and retired on disability, eventually requiring a wheelchair and round-the-clock oxygen.

In addition to his medical issues, James Zadroga’s wife became ill, suffering from an illness and overcome by the stress of her husband’s deteriorating health. She died in 2005. Just one year later, James Zadroga succumbed to his 9/11 illness, leaving behind a young daughter. He was only 34 years of age.

The long-term effects of high exposure to Ground Zero dust

As stated in the scholarly International Journal of Environmental and Public Health, “The toll of 9/11 includes the continued impact of accumulated health effects among those who were directly exposed to either the air pollution or re-suspended material that resulted from the collapse of the (twin towers)…this includes a wide range of physical and mental health disorders that continue to plague thousands of people 18 years later as well as newly identified conditions emerging as a result of prolonged disease latency.”

The most common conditions associated with high exposure to the toxic dust from the WTC collapse include an acute respiratory condition called “WTC Cough Syndrome.” For many, that cough turned into chronic rhinosinusitis, asthma, and/or bronchitis, as well as gastroesophageal reflux dysfunction (GERD), a digestive disorder that affects the ring of muscle between the esophagus and the stomach. Other conditions associated with extended exposure to the toxic dust and certified by the World Trade Center Health Program include:

  • Blood and lymphoid tissue diseases, including leukemia, myeloma, and lymphoma
  • Respiratory/lung cancers
  • Mesothelioma
  • Colorectal and urinary system cancers
  • Breast and ovarian cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Cancers of the skin, eye, head and neck, and soft and connective tissues
  • Childhood cancers and certain rare cancers

Non-cancer medical conditions also include sleep apnea, new-onset and/or reactive COPD, and reactive airway dysfunction syndrome (RADS), among others.

More recently, researchers at Mt. Sinai have found evidence linking an increased risk of liver disease to “the quantity of toxic dust the workers were exposed to, which was greatest immediately after the September 11, 2001, attacks.”

What was the Zadroga Act 2015?

In 2011, President Obama signed a bill bearing Zadroga’s name—the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act­ (commonly called the Zadroga Act)—into law, to provide medical monitoring and treatment for survivors and compensation to those who were injured or died during the attack. On October 1, 2015, the original Zadroga Act expired. Through the efforts of both private citizens and public officials, the act was reauthorized.

2019 James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act

By 2019, the Special Master determined that there was “not sufficient funding to pay all pending and projected claims.” The bill was reauthorized again and signed into law by President Trump to ensure that it would be fully funded up to October 1, 2019. It has been renamed the Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act.

In addition to James Zadroga, two names have been added to the act: FDNY firefighter Ray Pfeifer, who died from 9/11 cancer in 2017, and Luis Alvarez, an NYPD bomb squad detective, who also passed away after a battle with 9/11 cancer in 2019.

If you have become ill after 9/11 exposure a 911 attorney can help

As of mid-2021, nearly 82,000 first responders and more than 30,000 survivors have enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Program to get the medical treatment and monitoring they need. Additionally, some $1.6 billion was awarded by the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund in 2020, to put the total dollars awarded at $7.76 billion.

These are benefits that every survivor, or every family who has lost a loved one to a 9/11 illness, needs. If the process seems daunting, or if you need help applying for benefits or assistance with a denied claim, an experienced 9/11 attorney can get you over the hurdles so you can get the healthcare assistance and the full and fair compensation that you are owed. While you have until 2090 to file a September 11th Victim Compensation Fund claim, it is in your best interest to register with the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund as soon as possible. While the July 2021 deadline for registration has passed, it is important to note that the registration deadline is not the same for everyone. As lawyers with deep experience in assisting 9/11 survivors, we know how to help ensure that you get the best possible outcome with your claim.

Contact a Weisfuse & Weisfuse, LLP September 11th Victim Compensation Fund attorney today

Getting 9/11 benefits starts with a free and confidential consultation with one of our skilled and knowledgeable September 11th Victim Compensation Fund lawyers. To schedule a time to discuss your needs and concerns, please contact us online.

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