Citing exposures to Agent Orange in Vietnam and to radiation at nuclear weapons manufacturing facilities during the Cold War, the LHSFNA’s Research Division Director Dr. Jim Melius called on Congress last month to pass a comprehensive medical monitoring and treatment program for all residents and workers potentially exposed to toxics in the wake of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.

“Too often in the past,” he testified on September 18, “we have neglected to properly monitor the health of groups exposed in extraordinary situations only to later spend millions of dollars trying to determine the extent to which their health has been impacted…We have left those people to suffer, often without proper medical care and facing financial hardship due to their illnesses. We should learn from these past mistakes and make sure that we provide comprehensive medical monitoring, treatment and compensation for those potentially impacted by the WTC disaster.”

Melius’ testimony supported a September 17 letter to the House of Representatives submitted by LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan. Noting that over 4,000 Laborers participated in the rescue, recovery and clean-up operations at Ground Zero, O’Sullivan wrote, “Some of our members can no longer work and are suffering severe financial hardships.” He stressed that federal funding to help these and other victims “has been intermittent” and that “there is no commitment that funding for these vital services will be continued.” He concluded, “Our union believes that the federal government should be responsible for providing the medical monitoring and treatment for these workers” and urged Congress to adopt the “James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2007.”

Melius also urged Congress “to take immediate steps to ensure that there is adequate federal funding for the current medical monitoring and treatment programs and to open these programs or similar programs to the affected residents and to other affected workers.” Few individuals are as qualified as Melius to assess the funding problems of the government’s WTC medical monitoring and treatment programs. He is chair of the Steering Committee for the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program, chair of the Medical Advisory Committee for the International Association of Fire Fighters, co-chair of the Labor Advisory Committee of the WTC Registry (of the New York City Department of Health) and Administrator of the New York State Laborers’ Health and Safety Trust Fund.

In his testimony, Melius highlighted the plight of fire fighters from outside New York who responded to the disaster and have become ill as a result. Different approaches to providing care have been introduced in different places, often with ineffective results. “Many [fire fighters from outside the city] are confused about the arrangements and unaware of the availability of services,” he testified. He went on to document the inequities and gaps in services for other individuals that result from the various health and compensation programs that are in place as well as the hardships imposed on the private and governmental insurers that have so far been tapped. “This fragmented approach will inevitably leave many of the ill and disabled rescue and recovery workers without necessary medical treatment and will only worsen their health conditions.”

Melius testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. He, too, urged passage of the “James Zadroga” legislation introduced by Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D), Jerrold Nadler (D) and Vito J. Fossella (R), all of New York. The bill is named for a New York City police detective who died more than four years after the 9/11 attack. His autopsy linked his death to exposures he endured during the rescue operation.

[Steve Clark]