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First responders with cancer a big step closer to compensation

Ground Zero first-responders with cancer are an important step closer to qualifying for compensation and medical care paid for by the federal government.

Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, recommended Friday adding 50 types of cancer to the list of diseases covered by the $4.3-billion federal fund established to compensate and treat people exposed to the toxic dust that engulfed the World Trade Center site on Sept. 11, 2001.

That leaves just one more hurdle. The rule he proposed is open to public comment for 30 days beginning July 11 before it can become official policy.

An array of respiratory diseases already qualify for federal compensation. Cancer was left off the list because there wasn’t enough evidence linking the noxious dust to the disease. Fortunately the law that established the fund allowed officials to periodically review existing studies and add diseases to those covered when warranted. In March a scientific advisory committee recommended adding the 14 categories of cancer encompassing 50 specific types. 

A decade is a long time to wait, but the people who rushed to help after the 9/11 attacks, and have cancer as a result, deserve the nation’s financial help in addition to its gratitude.

If the rule becomes final, people who lived or worked near Ground Zero, or regularly passed through the area, will also be able to apply for compensation. It won’t be easy to determine who was sickened by exposure at Ground Zero and who would have developed cancer anyway. Or who among those who were exposed and develop cancer years from now should be covered. The answer is, it's complicated.

But the nation is now firmly on track to allow people with cancer to apply for compensation. We can’t restore their health, so that’s the best we can do.