From the AFL-CIO Now blog:

“Nine years ago, Vito Friscia was just one of the thousands of first responders who were heroes when he rushed to the scene of the Twin Towers collapsing on Sept. 11, 2001. A Brooklyn homicide detective, he was only a block away when the second of the Twin Towers fell. Engulfed in a perilous cloud, he put his life on the line to try to find survivors. Now, Friscia and thousands of other heroes of that tragic day are facing their own tragedy of serious illness.

“More than 13,000 World Trade Center responders are sick and receiving treatment. Nearly 53,000 responders are enrolled in medical monitoring. Some 71,000 are enrolled in the World Trade Center health registry indicating that they were exposed to the toxins. Friscia was exposed to the dangerous chemicals after he spent about a week at the site and then sifted through the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island. Today, he has a deep cough, chronic sinusitis and shortness of breath.

“The 2005 documentary “Vito After,” produced by his sister-in-law Maria Pusateri, gives us an up-close and personal look at what has happened to Friscia. In the film, which makes its international debut in London this weekend, he says he is not a hero, but that he was just doing his job.

“But unlike Friscia, Congress is not doing its job. It has failed to provide long-term medical care and monitoring for the tens of thousands of rescue and recovery workers and community members whose health is at serious risk from their exposure to contaminated materials.

“Just before the August recess, House Republicans blocked the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act (H.R. 847). The bill did not achieve the two-thirds majority required for passage under “suspension of the rules,” the parliamentary procedure used to bring the bill before a vote. But it did receive a large majority, 255-159, including 12 Republicans.

In a press conference this week, the bill’s two chief sponsors, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), said the 9/11 bill will be back on the floor the week of Sept. 20 with just a simple majority needed for passage. In a joint statement, they said: We anticipate that the bill will be taken up the second week we are back in session and will be considered under regular order, with the expectation and belief that neither side will play politics with this vitally important legislation.

“The firefighters, rescue workers, responders, police officers and EMTs, construction workers, clean-up workers, residents, area workers and school children were exposed to a toxic mix of chemicals, jet fuel, asbestos, lead, glass fragments and other debris. Their illnesses include a range of respiratory, gastrointestinal and mental health conditions. The struggle has taken so long because the former Bush administration refused to create or support a permanent monitoring, research and health care program for Ground Zero workers. The Bush White House also delayed and blocked efforts and cut funding for health care related to the 9/11 cleanup.”