The federal government released a proposal yesterday that recognized nearly 50 forms of cancer as 9/11 related, making hundreds of first responders and other New Yorkers who were exposed to a significant amount of Ground Zero debris eligible for federal healthcare and compensation. The proposal, which falls under the much-debated Zadroga Act, comes after years of research looking into the link between exposure to Ground Zero toxins and certain cancers.

But now, due to a vote by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health director Dr. John Howard, rescue workers, volunteers, Lower Manhattan residents and other people who were significantly exposed to Ground Zero toxins can receive free treatment for cancers like leukemia, lymphoma, thyroid cancer and respiratory system cancers at local hospitals like Bellevue and Mount Sinai. Other eligible victims or victims' families could be rewarded with over $1 million in disability compensation.

The decision does pose a few challenges. It will limit overall funds and compensation for those suffering from non-cancer related 9/11 ailments, like lung and respiratory sicknesses. And the Victims Compensation Fund, which is slated to end in 2016, will require more money to cover future claims. It won't cover cancers like brain cancer and pancreatic cancer, which have not been linked to Ground Zero toxin exposure.

But many health and government officials agree that the decision will have an important impact on those stricken by significant 9/11-triggered diseases. "This decision is a big step forward that backs up what we already know to be true—our heroes are sick and some are dying from cancer obtained by breathing the toxins at Ground Zero," Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand said in a statement yesterday.

The new guidelines are expected to kick in 30 days after a required public comment period.