Eleven years after the attacks on 9-11 and the subsequent Ground Zero volunteer cleanup that left thousands sickened, the federal government finally added cancer to the list of illnesses linked to the attacks.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health approved the additions to the list of illnesses covered in the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which were proposed in June. The updated regulations take effect 30 days after the ruling is published in the Federal Register.

The decision “marks an important step in the effort to provide needed treatment and care to 9/11 responders and survivors,” said Dr. John Howard, administrator of the World Trade Center Health Program established by the Zadroga law.

This comes too late for James Zadroga. He died of cancer at age 34 after participating in the cleanup at Ground Zero. In all, 400 rescue workers and residents have died from cancer in New York City since 9-11, in ways that suggest links to the attacks (out of a total of 1,000 deaths linked to 9-11 related illnesses). Despite this, it took nearly two years from the passage of the Zadroga bill in late 2010 to finally get cancer covered as one of the illnesses.

Rescue workers are upset that, despite the enhanced coverage of illnesses, the pot of money for compensation for victims will not increase, which probably means lower individual awards. However, the 70,000 surviving workers will likely get free care as a result of the change.

The issue could play a role in a key Senate race in Wisconsin. Tommy Thompson was President Bush’s Health and Human Services Secretary. The Bush Administration did not compensate victims of the environmental hazards at Ground Zero, and downplayed the consequences. When Thompson finally got around to helping workers suffering from illnesses from Ground Zero, it wasn’t as HHS Secretary (where he was criticized for not doing enough), but as a private entrepreneur. His company, Logistics Health Inc., won a CDC contract in 2008 for $11 million to track the health and treat some of the workers exposed to toxic environmental hazards. “It is ironic that former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson’s firm won the contract to provide the services, given the history of delay from the Bush administration when he was secretary and now,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney at the time.

Thompson also showed his acumen in issues of protecting innocent citizens from terror when he said in 2004, upon stepping down at HHS, “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not, you know, attacked our food supply. Because it is so easy to do.” Fortunately, nobody took him up on the tip.

For the moment, it’s positive that cancer survivors may get the treatment they need, but clearly more money is needed for the compensation system for those exposed at Ground Zero.