They sacrificed their bodies — and in some cases, their lives — for their noble work at Ground Zero, and now they and their loved ones feel abandoned.
Scores of first responders believe they contracted cancer due to the time they spent at the toxic World Trade Center site and are outraged the disease is being excluded from the new James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.
“Every time we bury a New York City firefighter: Cancer. Cancer. Cancer,” said retired Firefighter Kenneth Specht, who is battling thyroid cancer.
“How can that not be included? It’s absolutely unacceptable.”
Specht, 43, retired in 2008 after 13 years with the FDNY, too sick to keep working. He spent two months at Ground Zero after the terror attacks, desperately searching for the remains of his fallen colleagues and unaware that he was breathing in apparently dangerous chemicals.
“How can they not say, ‘You were in a bad position and we’re going to try and rectify this?'” said Specht who, because of the cancer and gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a prisoner in his Nassau County home.
“It’s not about money – we’re looking for some decency,” he said.
Margaret Stroehlein was driving from her Long Island home to Manhattan’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to visit her ill husband when she heard about the Zadroga bill decision.
“I wanted to cry,” said Stroehlein, whose firefighter husband Jeff has been stricken with a rare form of brain cancer.
Even with health insurance, Stroehlein said, she pays thousands of dollars for medication a month. She fought back tears as she described her husband’s reaction to the news that his family would not be eligible to have their medical bills covered.
“He was disappointed and upset for his family,” she said. “We have three children. This is just adding to his suffering.”
Another review next year by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health could still add cancer to the Zadroga bill – and answer Jennifer McNamara’s prayers.
She buried her husband, John, a 10-year FDNY veteran, two years ago and remains ineligible for any compensation from the bill.
“I had a husband who responded to the Trade Center in his 30s in perfect, perfect health,” she said. “At the age of 41 he was diagnosed with stage 1 colon cancer.”
John McNamara died two years later, leaving behind his wife and their young son.
“They did the DNA test and he had no genetic predisposition for colon cancer, which leaves environmental factors,” she said. “What is the one big environmental disaster lurking in my husband’s past? 9/11.”
Several studies, including a sweeping review of the FDNY’s medical records, are expected to be released later this year and could link certain types of cancers to Ground Zero toxins.