For sick ground zero workers, 9/11 never ends

Those who worked in the toxic smoke and dust of Ground Zero are still being treated for chronic illnesess.
CBS News

Nearly 3,000 people died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. But the list of victims keeps growing. Seventy-thousand men and women worked in the ruins at ground zero. Many now suffer from illnesses officially linked to the toxic smoke and dust, including respiratory and gastric diseases.

CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley brought some of them together and found out that for them, 9/11 is a day that never ended.

John Gallagher was a New York City fire captain on 9/11. He's among thousands of ground zero workers being treated by the World Trade Center Health Project at the State University of New York, Stonybrook.

"The World Trade Center is still claiming lives," said Gallagher. "People have had their lives shortened. People have lost their fathers, their mothers to cancers, to lung diseases -- anything that you can imagine -- blood-borne diseases. People are still dying."

John Feal was a construction worker who volunteered after the attack. "Sooner or later," he said, "we're gonna outnumber the 2,751 lives that were lost to senseless violence. If you did a show in a year from now, where those people that got interviewed last year, one of them won't be here because they died from 9/11-related illness."

Those illnesses include respiratory and gastric diseases such as gastro esophageal reflux, known as GERD. It was only this year the federal government guaranteed medical coverage for these diseases, but not coverage for cancer.

Tyree Bacon is a former courthouse officer."I have GERD, have the sinusitis, the rhinitis. I've had a sinus surgery already," he said. "I just have to laugh at the hypocrisy. We all heard in the beginning, 'The air was good. It's okay.' Now that very same government's saying, 'Well, cancer's not part of it.' You've gotta be kidding me."

Pelley said: "Well, there are scientists who've looked at this who said, 'We can't draw a direct link to your exposure to all of these toxins from the World Trade Center to any kind of cancer. It takes more research. it takes more evidence.'"

Bill Fisher, one of the people interviewed, responded: "We'll be dead by then."

"I don't need a doctor with 12 years of college," said Feal, "telling us that 9/11 didn't cause these cancers. If you took every toxin that was airborne that day, that following day, those following weeks-- and put 'em individually in a bottle -- you'd have skull and crossbones on it saying, 'Harmful if swallowed.'"

Pelley asked if there is scientific doubt, then these people should have the benefit of the doubt.

"Yes, definitely," said Feal. "What's the worst-case scenario? You help somebody who got cancer, who came to the aid of this country. That's the worst-case scenario."

Fifteen-thousand ground zero workers are still being treated for chronic diseases.

  • Scott Pelley
    Scott Pelley

    Correspondent, "60 Minutes"