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January 7, 2006 -- A police detective has died from lung disease, which the NYPD believes he contracted while working at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks.

The tragedy makes James Zadroga, 34, the first rescue worker to die from illness attributed to the Ground Zero rubble, a police spokesperson said yesterday.

The Manhattan homicide detective retired in 2004 because of his disability. He died at his family's Jersey home yesterday.

"He was a hero, he disregarded his own health and life to rescue people at Ground Zero," said Michael Palladino, head of the Detectives' Endowment Association.

Zadroga, whose wife died two years ago from cancer at age 29, was in 7 World Trade Center when it started to collapse. He spent another 470 hours in the soot-filled wreckage.

One month after he returned to the Manhattan South precinct, Zadroga fell ill. Within two years, he developed "black lung disease," police said.