Durbin Celebrates President's Signing of 9/11 First Responders Bill

Highlights Case of Chicago Firefighter / Ground Zero Volunteer

[CHICAGO, IL] – Rescue workers who became ill as a result of breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke at ground zero following the September 11 attacks will now receive medical care as a result of legislation just signed into law by the President, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said today. The James Zadroga 9/11 Health Compensation Act authorizes the World Trade Center Health Program, which would provide screenings and treatment for World Trade Center-related conditions for people who were in the area at the time of the attack and may be at risk. It would also set aside funds to re-open the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund to provide payments for job and economic losses as an alternative to the current litigation system.


“In the dark minutes, hours, days, and months after the 9/11 attacks, policemen, firefighters, medics, construction workers, and volunteers were among the heroes at ground zero rescuing survivors, searching for the deceased, and helping with recovery efforts. These heroes put their lives on the line. Now, nearly a decade later, many of those first responders have contracted serious illnesses as a result of the dangerous toxins to which they were exposed. We owe each and every one of them more than a debt of gratitude; we owe them compensation for any health problems they now have as a result of their service at ground zero,” said Durbin.


The deadline to enroll in the Victim Compensation Fund closed on December 22, 2003, leaving rescue workers and community members who started experiencing negative health effects of the toxic exposures after 2003 ineligible for the Fund. This bill would extend the Victim Compensation Fund deadline to December 22, 2031, so that victims whose injuries emerge after 2003 are eligible for compensation stemming from the terror attacks.


One former Chicago firefighter featured in last week’s Chicago Sun-Times potentially has much to gain as a result. Arthur Noonan is a 30-year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department who volunteered for months at Ground Zero. In those critical days and weeks after the terrorist attack, Mr. Noonan worked in a line passing buckets of debris from Ground Zero, searching for human remains and clothing. Three years after the clean-up at Ground Zero, Mr. Noonan contracted leukemia. He applied for health benefits through the Victim Compensation Act and submitted medical documents to substantiate his claim. His claim was filed just two weeks after the December 2003 deadline.


“There are nearly 60,000 people enrolled in health monitoring and treatment programs related to the 9/11 attacks,” Durbin said. “In Illinois, there are 188 responders and 86 survivors who are enrolled in the World Trade Center health registry. This bill will provide much needed screening, treatment, and support for those brave rescue and recovery workers and community members, who did their job – and then some – when our country was under attack.”


The House of Representatives passed the bill in September, but the Senate rejected a procedural move in early December to end debate on the bill and to bring it to a vote (57 votes for and 42 votes against). On December 22nd, a revived bill passed the Senate today unanimously, the House quickly passed that version, and it was signed into law by the President today.


The bill, called The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, is named after a New York police detective who participated in the rescue efforts at Ground Zero. He later developed breathing complications that were common to first responders at the site, and he died in January 2006.