By Cynthia Magnus
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
NEW YORK — With the topic of cancer being added to the list of federally funded conditions covered under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation law, hundreds perhaps thousands of stakeholders throughout the city and country tried to connect to a teleconference on Tuesday Jan. 24 organized by the National Institute for Occupational Safety (NIOSH). It was aborted at the last minute due to a phone glitch.
The addition of subsidized cancer treatment has been strenuously advocated by 9/11 survivors and responders, and politicians including congressional representatives Jerrold Nadler (D), Peter King (R), and Carolyn Maloney (D), who were disappointed last summer when NIOSH director John Howard, MD, claimed insufficient evidence to support covering cancer.
The agenda of the highly anticipated meeting on Tuesday of the World Trade Center Health Program Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (WTC — STAC) included discussion of health treatment eligibility for responders at the Pentagon and Shanksville, PA as well as cancer coverage for WTC survivors.
Fred Blosser, spokesman for NIOSH, said that the Jan. 24 teleconference will not be rescheduled before the next STAC meetings in NYC on February 15 and 16. Blosser first said the teleconference could only accommodate 100 lines and, “when people tried to call in to the line, they couldn’t get access,” but has since said that the number of callers was not an issue and that the problem is under investigation.
The question remains why planners failed to anticipate higher interest in the teleconference.
John Feal, US Army veteran, WTC responder, and founder the FealGood Foundation that advocates for 9/11 responders, was among about fifty 9/11 responders, survivors, and advocates gathered in a meeting room at the Police Museum on Tuesday to dial into the conference and testify. He said, “Why didn’t they do a test run?”
Congressman Jerrold Nadler said on Wednesday, “I was disappointed that this week’s STAC call, which had cancer on the agenda, was canceled. I’ve heard from a number of responders and survivors who took great pains to change their schedules in order to provide STAC with much-needed testimony about cancer, among other illnesses.”
Feal said on Tuesday that attendees have the right to feel disappointed. “These people are financially burdened, [they] have debilitating diseases, they all had to travel here and this isn’t an easy place to travel to.” He also said the foundation has an email list of about 8000 people who were notified about dialing in to the teleconference.
Feal, whose work helped get Zadroga passed, said, “Getting the cancer added [to Zadroga] tests your resolve. While I understand the process, I just don’t agree with the process because it’s long and drawn out. If more people get sick and more people die — at what point did we stop caring about human life?”
Michael McPhillips, a FealGood Foundation board member, was a port captain responsible on 9/11 for all the water transportation and rescue, working with OEM and NY Waterway. He said the planning for Tuesday’s teleconference was “obviously inadequate” considering the number of people who are in the WTC monitoring system. McPhillips, who suffers from liver and respiratory disease also bears the challenge of $12K annually in medical co-payments, a problem common to many survivors with limited insurance.
Catherine McVay Hughes, STAC member and Community Board 1 vice-chair and member of the CB1 WTC redevelopment committee, urges public attendance for the next meetings where STAC will discuss what recommendations to make to NIOSH by the March 2 deadline on whether cancer or types of cancer should be added as a covered condition.
Elizabeth Ward, STAC chair and National Vice President for Intramural Research for the American Cancer Society, said that committee members were sitting in their offices on Tuesday trying to dial in and could not. She said, “We are all very sorry that this happened,” but, “I don’t think the inability to have this one call undermines the process.” On whether those who missed out on testifying on Jan. 24 would be invited to submit data to STAC before the decision-making February meetings, Ward said, “It’s something that could be done and should be done.”
Nadler, who has advocated the Zadroga legislation, said, “As my colleagues and I have made abundantly clear, it is essential that we move forward with this process to add coverage for cancers and provide the comprehensive care that our responders and survivors need and deserve. Now that the STAC in-person meeting has been scheduled for February 15 and 16 in New York City, I believe we can do just that.”
Those interested in the February meetings can check this site for updates: www.cdc.gov/NIOSH/topics/wtc/stac/meetings/.