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9/11 first responders outraged over exclusion of cancer from Zadroga health act

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By Jonathan Lemire
Wednesday, July 27th 2011
New York Daily News

Image: Retired Firefighter Kenneth Specht said the exclusion of cancer as a disease covered by the Zadroga health act was “absolutely unacceptable”. (Photo credit: Elisa Miller for News)

They sacrificed their bodies – and in some cases, their lives – for their noble
work at Ground Zero, and now they and their loved ones feel abandoned.

Scores of first responders believe they contracted cancer due to the time they
spent at the toxic World Trade Center site and are outraged the disease is being
excluded from the new James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

“Every time we bury a New York City firefighter: Cancer. Cancer. Cancer,”
said retired Firefighter Kenneth Specht, who is battling thyroid cancer.

“How can that not be included? It’s absolutely unacceptable.”

Specht, 43, retired in 2008 after 13 years with the FDNY, too sick to keep
working. He spent two months at Ground Zero after the terror attacks, desperately
searching for the remains of his fallen colleagues and unaware that he was breathing
in apparently dangerous chemicals.

“How can they not say, ‘You were in a bad position and we’re going to
try and rectify this?'” said Specht who, because of the cancer and gastroesophageal
reflux disease, is a prisoner in his Nassau County home.

“It’s not about money – we’re looking for some decency,” he said.

Margaret Stroehlein was driving from her Long Island home to Manhattan’s Memorial
Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to visit her ill husband when she heard about
the Zadroga bill decision.

“I wanted to cry,” said Stroehlein, whose firefighter husband Jeff
has been stricken with a rare form of brain cancer.

Even with health insurance, Stroehlein said, she pays thousands of dollars
for medication a month. She fought back tears as she described her husband’s
reaction to the news that his family would not be eligible to have their medical
bills covered.

“He was disappointed and upset for his family,” she said. “We
have three children. This is just adding to his suffering.”

Another review next year by the National Institute for Occupational Safety
and Health could still add cancer to the Zadroga bill – and answer Jennifer
McNamara’s prayers.

She buried her husband, John, a 10-year FDNY veteran, two years ago and remains
ineligible for any compensation from the bill.

“I had a husband who responded to the Trade Center in his 30s in perfect,
perfect health,” she said. “At the age of 41 he was diagnosed with
stage 1 colon cancer.”

John McNamara died two years later, leaving behind his wife and their young

“They did the DNA test and he had no genetic predisposition for colon
cancer, which leaves environmental factors,” she said. “What is the
one big environmental disaster lurking in my husband’s past? 9/11.”

Several studies, including a sweeping review of the FDNY’s medical records,
are expected to be released later this year and could link certain types of
cancers to Ground Zero toxins.