WASHINGTON – A new autopsy attributing a 34-year-old New York police detective's death this year to exposure to toxic Sept. 11 dust should spur the government to do more for sick ground zero workers, lawmakers said Wednesday.
The federal official charged with overseeing the government's Sept. 11 health programs will examine the autopsy report and plans to meet again with the lawmakers to discuss the matter, a spokesman said.
A coroner's report released Tuesday found James Zadroga's death after developing respiratory disease was "directly related" to the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. Zadroga, of Little Egg Harbor, N.J., died Jan. 5.
Researchers say it will take decades to determine which illnesses and deaths among ground zero workers were caused by their exposure to the asbestos-laden dust cloud.
Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-Manhattan, Vito Fossella, R-Staten Island, and Christopher Shays, R-Conn., say the report should prompt more action from the federal government in screening and treating sick ground zero workers.
The government now funds screening and treatment programs, but lawmakers, including Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., have for years complained the programs do not get enough federal support to reach and treat all the people affected by the attacks and their aftermath.
"It is truly sad," Maloney said in a statement, "that four and a half years after 9/11 the federal government still does not have a comprehensive plan to treat those who are suffering."
Zadroga's family and union released his autopsy results, the first known medical ruling positively linking a death to recovery work at ground zero.
"It is felt with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the cause of death in this case was directly related to the 9/11 incident," wrote Gerard Breton, a pathologist at the Ocean County (N.J.) medical examiner's office in the Feb. 28 autopsy.
A class action lawsuit and families of ground zero workers have alleged that more than two dozen deaths are related to exposure to trade center dust, which doctors believe contained a number of toxic chemicals including asbestos and more than 1 million tons of debris from the twin towers.
Zadroga died of respiratory failure and had inflammation in his lung tissue due to "a history of exposure to toxic fumes and dust," Breton wrote.
The New York Police Department detective spent 470 hours after the attacks sifting through the twin towers' smoldering ruins, wearing a paper mask for protection. His breathing became labored within weeks, he developed a cough and he had to use an oxygen tank to breathe. He retired on disability in November 2004.
The coroner found material "consistent with dust" in Zadroga's lungs and damage to his liver and said his heart and spleen were enlarged.
Federal health officials will examine the autopsy findings, according to a spokesman for Dr. John Howard, the director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Howard is charged with overseeing the government's Sept. 11 health programs.
"We haven't seen the (autopsy) report ourselves," NIOSH spokesman Fred Blosser said. "Dr. Howard has said that he will look for and wants to read any report, documentation, information that would provide more details on the illnesses that are being reported by responders and also these reports of deaths among some 20 responders."