Rescue workers and construction crews were not the only ones affected by exposure to dust and smoke at the collapse of the World Trade Centre – several journalists it now turns out have suffered ill health as a result.
One whose work has suffered is NY Times photographer Keith Meyers who cut short a holiday when the terrorists attacked and rushed to New York to help with the coverage at Ground Zero.
Four days later he flew over the scene in a Coast Guard helicopter to shoot some of the most dramatic aerial pictures of the scene. As he leaned out of the helicopter with his camera he could feel and smell the rising smoke.
“It was like breathing fire” he now recalls. “I could feel my skin tingling and burning”. A doctor later told him – after he had suffered several severe asthma attacks – that he had probably been exposed to caustic chemicals.
Over the next two years his health deteriorated. Now 59, Meyers suffers from serious breathing problems. He is now on medical leave from The Times.
Meyers is not alone. Several other newsmen who covered the story are now suffering from similar ailments to some of the rescue workers, among them policemen and firemen, who have been diagnosed as suffering from asthma, rhinitis,sinusitis, stomach and voice disorders,
At least five other journalists have suffered serious health problems and one has died.
Keith Silverman, a freelance cameraman who spent two weeks at the WTC working for ABC, can no longer work. He suffers from chronic sinus problems and Hodgkin”s lymphoma, ailments caused he believes by his exposure to the dust and smoke.
The NY Press Photographers Association has started a campaign among members who worked the disaster site to fill in a survey about their health. So far 36 out of 600 who have taken part have reported health problems that they claim has affected their careers.
But even knowing what they now know – or suspect – most of them say they would have covered the story anyway – but if it happened again they would be more careful.