By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
It’s called The Environmental and Occupational Health Science Institute, located on the Rutgers campus in Piscataway. Dr. Iris Udasin runs the clinic that treat 9/11 first responders.
Congressman Frank Pallone visited today to highlight renewal of the Zadroga Act, which was part of the omnibus spending package Congress approved last week.
The Zadroga Act offers treatment, and in some cases compensation, to 9/11 first responders with health problems. Like retired NYPD officer David Howley of Hunterdon County.
“I wouldn’t be here otherwise. I would have passed away. She caught my cancer a couple of times. She was able to get me to some really really good doctors. I have a tremendous team of doctors now,” Howley said.
The 9/11 clinic here sees about 100 patients a month and does research on treating disaster-related toxicity. Ed McQuade, a retired Port Authority Police sergeant, who spent nine months at ground zero, had to have his thyroid removed.
“It’s only a help for people in the future to know what it is we were exposed to and what could possibly be down the road in order to protect future responders,” McQuade said.
“Part of what Iris does is to see what we can do differently if there’s another attack,” Pallone said.
James Zardroga of North Arlington and the NYPD was the first to die from 9/11-related illness. As the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Pallone pushed hard along with others to reauthorize the Act.
“In my own state of New Jersey we have a clinic where we help about 5,000 mostly first responders. They need specialized health care. Their problems get more severe as time goes on,” Pallone said.
According to the first responder community, among the 72,000 people who responded to the disaster or otherwise suffered exposure, there have been 200 deaths and 33,000 illnesses. In New Jersey, 5,166 have been treated throughout the state, about half at the Rutgers clinic. 1,683 are eligible for compensation, as for instance for lost wages.
“We make sure everybody’s taken care of by someone that actually knows what to do about what their illnesses are,” Udasin said.
Originally authorized for five years, the program would have expired in 2016 without re-authorization. With President Obama’s signature of the spending package, it’s been extended for 75 years, essentially made permanent.
“I think in this holiday season, I think that this is the best present we could have given ourselves,” Howley said.
“It shouldn’t have been a question, it shouldn’t have taken so long, but in the end it makes you proud to be an American,” William Romaka, from the International Association of Firefighters, said.
Today was all about expressions of gratitude for the Zadroga Act itself and for Congress for extending it until the year 2090.