The blowing dust clouds from the collapsed Trade Center towers are posing a health problem. And as medical correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports, the pollution is wafting far from ground zero.
Medical workers shifted their focus today. With hope of survivors now slim, the health and safety of rescue crews has become the main concern. They are working under unimaginable emotional and physical duress: in heavy clothing, heat, and air that is barely breathable.
Dr. Anthony Gagliardi of St. Vincent's Hospital has this to say about the conditions:
"What exactly are they breathing in? They're breathing in a combination of dust and concrete, dirt, pulverized paper. What about asbestos? As far as I know there is no free asbestos in the air at the site."
Good news in terms of long-term health risks, but in the short term, the heavy air has caused an epidemic of respiratory problems and burning eyes, sending many to the ER and hampering rescue efforts.
Sandy Gelbard of Bellevue Hospital recalled: "One guy, he had asthma. He was wheezing. He got a nebulizer and he just went right back out."
In the desperate attempt to find any living, any fallen colleagues, doctors are concerned rescuers may be pushing too hard. Glenn Rey, a volunteer fireman from Medford, New York, spent the night in the hospital with lung problems, but he was back on the site today.
Glenn Rey said, "My lungs don't feel too hot. They seem like they're full of gas, so I think maybe people should be wearing their masks."
"A lot of them are uncontrollable out there. They have the zeal to stay as long as they possibly can and they'll take little respites on their own," said Dr. Gagliardi.
It's not only those at the disaster site at risk. The shifting September winds are blowing pungent air throughout the city. Some average citizens are now donning face masks, making any hope of getting life back to normal more difficult.
Dr. Philip Landrigan, from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, warns, "The people who are at greatest risk are the elderly, the very young, also people with chronic lung disease and people with heart disease."
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