Ground Zero Workers' Health Cloudy

The Early Show Medical Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay, Doctor and Patient
CBS/The Early Show
Many of the estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people who volunteered or worked at Ground Zero in the aftermath of Sept. 11 have reported developing health problems that still persist today.

The Early Show Medical Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay talked to a few who are trying to cope with their respiratory problem.

Volunteer rescue worker John Graham of Paramus, N.J. was among the first responders to the attack on the New York City's World Trade Center. He was engulfed by the cloud of debris when the first tower collapsed.

"We just saw the cloud come down and there was a big gust of air that broke out all the windows," Graham said. "There was so much of it you actually gagged on it."

Like many others, Graham is now paying the price for his good deeds. The rescue worker said he has reactive airway disease, asthma and his throat feels burnt.

"It's slowed me down a lot," Graham said. "I'm not as active a father as I was."

Experts say the health problems are due to exposure to a toxic cocktail of poisonous particles such as glass, cement, fiberglass, asbestos, jet fuel and other combustion products in the air at Ground Zero.

"The reports and the EPA's press releases tended to accentuate the positive and not give the whole picture," Dr. Jacqueline Moline said.

Moline heads the WTC Screening Program at Mt. Sinai Hospital to identify and track health problems among Ground Zero workers.

"We've seen about 7,500 individuals thus far in our screening program and we know that over half of them are affected," he said. "They still have physical complaints."

Even for those with no symptoms, the longer-term effects of exposure are unknown.

"People should be monitored, who knows what can surface from this in a few years," New York Police Officer George Sabando said. "Hopefully down the road, we'll see that we're all okay — I hope."

Currently, the U.S. Congress has set aside money for a long-term follow-up program. The New York City Health Department has created a registry to track the long-term health problems that could possibly surface over time as a result of the inhalation of toxic substances at Ground Zero.

Also, many with health problems from exposure to the dust at Ground Zero are struggling because their worker's compensation are being processed slowly. Some men and women are using whatever resources at their disposal. Some, however, have lost their jobs as a result of their ailments, which may compound the problem.