Tuesday, June 13, 2006


When I think of 9/11 and the World Trade Center, I think of the people on the planes and in the offices in the twin towers who were killed, and I think of the firefighters and cops and EMTs who went in to save them and died there.

I don't forget that there were people who got out and others, a few others, who were rescued from the rubble. It's just that the horror of the others' deaths dominates my imagination. Now and then a story comes along and reminds me that to have survived that day was not always the same as to have escaped and for some people that day is not yet over. Take James Buckley.

Buckley was working as a stagehand on Sept. 11 for a cultural arts group when the plane crashed into the North Tower. Buckley, who lives near Albany and grew up in Monroe, was buried beneath the rubble.

Buckley suvived. But he doesn't feel like he escaped. He is a sick man these days. He's sick in the ways that a lot of people---8,000 people---who worked at Ground Zero, sifting through the rubble, looking for survivors, finding what was left of victims who didn't survive, helping to clear away the mess.

Experts estimate more than 40,000 people worked at the World Trade Center site sifting through rubble; a class action lawsuit against the federal government includes 8,000 workers who are suffering from health problems.

The air in and around Ground Zero, legal and health experts said yesterday, contained chemicals ranging from dioxin to mercury to asbestos to lead. It's caused otherwise healthy people to develop asthma, cancer and heart and lung problems, according to [speakers at seminar sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Public Health Project: "The Toxic Aftermath of 9/11: An Emerging Health Crisis."]

Buckley got as close to the rubble as anybody could have, of course, and he believes that what he breathed in and touched and was touched by made him sick.

He's lost the sight in his left eye. He has trouble breathing. His lymph nodes are enlarged. He hasn't been able to work for years, he's been that sick. He believes what's the matter with him was caused by what happened to him at Ground Zero, but he isn't sure. He wants doctors to tell him, one way or the other, but he has a problem.

It's been a fight to get any doctor to go beyond a diagnosis of "environmental causes" and make the connection to Ground Zero air, Buckley said. That's making workers compensation claims a nightmare.

He's reached out to hospitals and doctors studying the effects of Ground Zero air. He said he's told he doesn't qualify for the tests because he wasn't a rescue worker, but he's invited to get the tests - for a fee.

You can read all of Kristina Wells' story for the Times Herald-Record here.


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