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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Union Seeks 9/11 Firefighter Cancer Registry

MANHATTAN (CN) — Days before the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the chief of New York City's firefighters union emphasized the need for a cancer registry to better treat the thousands still suffering.

The Uniformed Firefighters Officers Association estimates that 10,233 first responders within the FDNY have come down with at least one condition with a certified link to the 9/11 attacks.

On top of the 343 firefighters who died that day, the union says, another 127 have succumbed to illnesses caused by their rescue efforts.

One of those victims, the late NYPD Detective James Zadroga, was diagnosed with a respiratory disease attributed to toxic World Trade Center dust, and his name lives on through a piece of legislation helping other first responders.

First signed by President Barack Obama in 2010, the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act had expired last October to public outcry, before Congress finally stepped up to reauthorize the $8.1 billion bill in December.

But FDNY Battalion Chief James Lemonda, the union's president, told reporters at a press conference at his office on Friday that the struggle for care is not over.

"Currently, Sen. [Charles] Schumer has introduced a bill to create a national cancer registry," Lemonda said, referring to the Democrat from New York. "Right now, we are seeing a lot of illnesses that are coming to light, and we want to see these included in the Zadroga Act. We need documentation so that we can point to medical evidence, so we can make the connection between the events of that day and these illnesses."

The union's office on 125 Maiden Lane is a short walk away from the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, dedicated a little more than two years ago some six blocks west.

On Tuesday, the FDNY added 17 names to its own World Trade Center Memorial Wall commemorating its fallen.

Another 1,396 are coping with cancer, in addition to 5,723 gastrointestinal, 5,557 upper respiratory and 5,456 respiratory illnesses, the union says.

Lemonda says that a registry is needed to discover what other linkages may exist.

"I believe we've had some incidences of autoimmune disease and also multiple sclerosis that we can link to it," he said. "We just need more documentation."

The continuing discoveries of 9/11 illnesses, for Lemonda, complicates the saying, "Time heals all wounds."

"There's not enough time to heal this wound for all of us," he said. "You take off the bandage, and the wounds are raw."

This is especially so, he added, on the days leading up to annual anniversaries — when his union takes particular care to reach out to its members.

"Some of them are sick and dying, to be honest with you," Lemonda said. "There's not one member of our union of this department that we have reached out to who ever said that they regretted responding down there. Even though they have these terminal illnesses, they all said the same thing. They would do it all over again."

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