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New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged Congress to do more to help first-responders who became ill after the collapse of the World Trade Centre towers on 9/11. ((Jonathan Ernst/Reuters) )

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged the U.S. Congress on Monday to approve a bill to help the police, firefighters and other emergency workers who became ill after working in the area around the World Trade Center towers that collapsed on 9/11.

"Caring for the men and women who rush to our defence on that dark day and on the days that followed is nothing less than a national duty," Bloomberg said during a news conference attended by politicians, police officials and the families of those who have become ill or died.

The mayor was referring to the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which would amend the Public Health Service Act to provide extra medical and other benefits to first-responders at the site of the Sept. 11 attacks.

It's named after an NYPD detective who worked at Ground Zero and died of a respiratory illness in 2006.

Zadroga and others were exposed to clouds of toxic fumes, dust and smoke. Many have since fallen very ill and dozens have died, with exposure to toxic chemicals at the site believed to be a major factor.

Former firefighter Kenny Specht has been lobbying for legislation that would give him and others extra medical benefits.

"I had difficulty breathing. I had my gall bladder removed. I was diagnosed with cancer in 2007," he told CBC News.

But the bill faces opposition in Congress as Republicans have repeatedly blocked the legislation. Some have called it a New York slush fund, while others oppose increasing Washington's already massive deficit of $1.3 trillion US.

Republican Representative Lamar Smith of Texas said: "This is another example of Congress's insatiable appetite for the taxpayer's hard-earned dollars. I urge my colleagues to vote no on this bill."

On Sunday, Democratic senators — after failing to win a procedural vote to open debate on the bill last week — amended the bill, hoping it would be enough to gain Republican support. They came up with a way to cut the bill's price tag to $6.2 billion from $7.4 billion and cover the costs with increased visa fees for immigrants.