James Zadroga

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James Zadroga
Born(1971-02-08)February 8, 1971
DiedJanuary 5, 2006(2006-01-05) (aged 34)
EmployerNew York City Police Department (1992–2006)
SpouseRhonda Zadroga (d. 2005)

James Zadroga (February 8, 1971[1] – January 5, 2006) was a New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer who died of a respiratory disease that has been attributed to his participation in rescue and recovery operations in the rubble of the World Trade Center following the September 11 attacks. Zadroga was the first NYPD officer whose death was attributed to exposure to his contact with toxic chemicals at the attack site.[2]

Zadroga had joined the New York City Police Department in 1992 and attained the rank of Detective. He was a healthy non-smoker and had no known history of asthma or other respiratory conditions before spending 450 hours participating in the recovery efforts at the 9/11 attack site.[3] Weeks after his time at the World Trade Center site, Zadroga developed a persistent cough, and, as the months progressed, he developed shortness of breath and became unable to walk distances more than 100 feet without gasping for air.[4]

The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund awarded Zadroga a monetary settlement in excess of $1 million in 2004, after determining that his exposure to dust at Ground Zero had caused his respiratory illness. The New York City Police Department Medical Board approved his application for permanent disability retirement that same year, after concluding that his illness was related to dust exposure.[5]

Cause of death[edit]

World Trade Center monument at Zadroga Field, North Arlington, New Jersey

The causes of Zadroga's death are under dispute.[6] Gerard Breton, a pathologist of the Ocean County, New Jersey medical examiner's office, conducted an autopsy in April 2006, and he reported, "It is felt with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the cause of death in this case was directly related to the 9/11 incident."[3] This attribution made Zadroga, 34 years old at the time of his death, the first 9/11 responder whose death was directly linked with toxic Ground Zero substances.[2] Breton's autopsy found what he described as "unidentified foreign materials" in Zadroga's lungs,[7] which were identified by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C. as talc, cellulose, calcium phosphate, and methacrylate plastic;[5] However, the examination did not compare the particles found in his lungs with actual dust from the World Trade Center site.[7]

The New York City Medical Examiners Office asserted in October 2007 that Zadroga's death was not related to his time at Ground Zero, with Chief Medical Examiner Charles Hirsch and another medical examiner signing a statement that "It is our unequivocal opinion, with certainty beyond doubt, that the foreign material in your son’s lungs did not get there as the result of inhaling dust at the World Trade Center or elsewhere".[7] Hirsch concluded that Zadroga died from self-injection of ground drugs, with Hirsch finding severe scarring in his lungs that he determined was caused by cellulose and talc granulomas and stating (through a spokesperson) that "The lung disease he had was a consequence of injecting prescription drugs".[8] Officials from the Chief Medical Examiner's office met with the Zadroga family to present his findings.[9]

In response to the City Medical Examiner's autopsy results, Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg stated "We wanted to have a hero, and there are plenty of heroes, it’s just in this case, science says this was not a hero" at remarks made after receiving an award from the Harvard School of Public Health, but backed away from his earlier characterization at a news conferences stating that "This was a great N.Y.P.D. officer who dedicated himself — put his life in harm’s way hundreds of times during his career — and you can use your own definition."[10]

A third opinion obtained by Zadroga's family later that month from Dr. Michael Baden, chief forensic pathologist of the New York State Police (and former New York City Medical Examiner), backed the original claim of WTC dust responsibility, citing the presence of glass fibers in Zadroga's lungs that could not be related to injecting drugs. James' father, Joseph, said that the medical examiner reported no "track marks on his arms or body" and that his son had taken anti-anxiety medications and painkillers including OxyContin, but had never ground up and injected the drugs.[8]

James Zadroga Acts[edit]

Then-Governor of New York George Pataki signed legislation on August 14, 2006, to expand death benefits to Ground Zero workers who die from cancer or respiratory diseases, under the presumption that the cause was due to exposure during recovery efforts. Pataki mentioned Zadroga at the bill-signing ceremony, held at the World Trade Center site.[11]

At the federal level, Zadroga became namesake for the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, which provides health monitoring and financial aid to 9/11 first responders and survivors. The Act covers medical and other expenses for a specific list of diseases and conditions. These include interstitial lung diseases, asthma, and gastroesophageal reflux disease.[12] Initially, the latency period often associated with diagnosing cancer has created a potential hurdle in appropriately compensating individuals who may die or become ill in the future as a result of their exposure following the 2001 tragedy.[13] Since its creation, additional conditions have been made eligible: in September 2012, 50 different types of cancers were added,[14] and in September 2013, prostate cancer was added to the list.[15]

Personal life[edit]

Zadroga was of Polish descent. He had been married. His wife, Rhonda, had died in Florida in October 2005 due to a heart ailment.[16]

Zadroga was honored in his hometown of North Arlington, New Jersey with the renaming of the Skyline Sports Complex, from which the Twin Towers could be seen, which became the James Zadroga Soccer Field as of September 21, 2008. The borough has also dedicated two monuments to Zadroga as part of the ceremonies.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ As listed on the memorial stone in Zadroga Field, North Arlington, New Jersey
  2. ^ a b Smith, Stephen. "Tale Of The 'Walking Dead': A N.Y. Cop's Life Turns To Tragedy After Heroic 9/11 Work" Archived September 13, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, CBS News, February 24, 2006. Accessed September 12, 2008.
  3. ^ a b DePalma, Anthony. "Debate Revives as 9/11 Dust Is Called Fatal" Archived January 25, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times, April 14, 2006. Accessed September 13, 2008.
  4. ^ Editorial. "Hirsch must explain" Archived September 21, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Daily News, November 29, 2007. Accessed September 15, 2008.
  5. ^ a b DePalma, Anthony. "City Says Prescription Misuse Caused Death of Detective Who Worked at 9/11 Site " Archived January 17, 2018, at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times, October 26, 2007. Accessed September 13, 2008.
  6. ^ Johnson, Madeleine. "How Could Inhaled Dust and IV Drug Use Be Confused At Autopsy?" Archived December 16, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, Scienceline, December 8, 2010. Accessed December 8, 2010.
  7. ^ a b c McFadden, Robert D. "Rejecting ’06 Finding, Report Says Detective Didn’t Die From 9/11 Dust" Archived January 31, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times, October 19, 2007. Accessed September 13, 2008.
  8. ^ a b "City says drug use, not dust killed 9/11 hero James Zadroga." Archived May 9, 2008, at the Wayback Machine Daily News (New York), October 26, 2007. Accessed September 12, 2008.
  9. ^ DePalma, Anthony. "Family in 9/11 Dust Case Visits Medical Examiner" Archived January 16, 2018, at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times, October 20, 2007. Accessed September 15, 2008.
  10. ^ Cardwell, Diane. "Mayor Backs Away From Questioning Dead Officer’s Heroism " Archived April 22, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times, October 31, 2007. Accessed September 13, 2008.
  11. ^ Cooper, Michael. "Pataki Signs Law Increasing Death Benefits for Ground Zero Workers" Archived May 5, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times, August 15, 2006. Accessed September 13, 2008.
  12. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)". September 11 Victim Compensation Fund. Archived from the original on June 24, 2015. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  13. ^ "9/11 responders wait for compensation for their illnesses - CNN.com". CNN. September 11, 2012. Archived from the original on November 4, 2013. Retrieved October 29, 2013.
  14. ^ "NIOSH Decision Will Make Many Cancers Eligible for Zadroga Act Coverage, including Prostate Cancer". Parker Waichman LLP. Archived from the original on June 24, 2015. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  15. ^ MacIntosh, Jeane (September 19, 2013). "Zadroga Act now covers prostate cancer". New York Post. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  16. ^ "Tale of the 'Walking Dead'", CBS News, February 23, 2006. accessed October 2, 2018.
  17. ^ Clunn, Nick. "Cop who died from Sept. 11 lung illness to be honored" Archived September 14, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, The Record (Bergen County), September 11, 2008. Accessed September 13, 2008.

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