Fourteen years and two months have passed since the World Trade Center collapsed into a cloud of toxic dust, and that long passage of time has altered American politics in countless ways. The public, for example, is much more leery about going to war in the Middle East than it was in those initial months of anxiety and anger, or about giving up its privacy rights in the name of national security. And on Capitol Hill, finding a few billion dollars to care for the thousands of people who were poisoned by carcinogens at Ground Zero has become a much tougher sell.
In late 2010, Congress set up the World Trade Center Health Program to monitor and treat first responders and survivors suffering from respiratory and other illnesses—cancer, in many cases—as a result of their exposure to toxins in the weeks and months after September 11. With little notice outside of New York, the federal authorization for the program expired six weeks ago, and lawmakers are now rushing to renew it before patients begin losing access to their doctors and treatment centers.
“If this program is not reauthorized and adequately funded, people are going to die,” warned Representative Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who authored the legislation creating the program. The treatment centers in New York and New Jersey can continue operating until the program spends its remaining money, which administrators believe will last well into 2016. But if the law is not renewed soon, patients will begin receiving letters informing them that they may have to seek treatment elsewhere. That in itself is a serious concern for advocates, since many of those in the program suffer from PTSD in addition to advanced cancer.