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New Study Finds 9/11 Ground Zero Responders Paying With Their Health

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Rescue crews dug their way through the rubble of Ground Zero to search for any survivors after 9/11. (credit: CBS 2)

Rescue crews dug their way through the rubble of Ground Zero to search for any survivors after 9/11. (credit: CBS 2)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The first long-term study of the health impacts of the 9/11 attacks is out and the results are not good news for workers at Ground Zero.

1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon Reports


In the days, weeks and months after the World Trade towers fell, firefighters, police, rescue, construction and city workers labored in a witche’s brew of smoke, pulverized cement and known carcinogens like asbestos, benzene, PCB’s and dioxin, CBS 2′s Dr. Max Gomez reported.

LINK: Much More On The Study

Firefighter Ray Pfeifer worked on the pile for seven months. He was told by his doctor that he had stage-4 cancer.

“Who knows what you were breathing in because it was so thick,” Pfeifer said.

Now, nearly ten years later, Pfeifer’s kidney cancer has spread and so far, it has cost him part of his leg and hip and a kidney. He’s not alone.

“There are a lot of guys who are sick on this job — a lot of guys,” Pfeifer said.

A major federally-funded study released Thursday night in the Lancet medical journal shows firefighters working at the site had 10 percent more cancers than the general public and 19 percent more cancers than firefighters not involved.

“The biggest surprise was that cancer was increased. Actually, when I started the study, I didn’t think it would be, alright. Not at seven years, alright. But that increase is real,” FDNY Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Prezant said.

Although other cancer experts say it is too soon to draw a link between those exposures and cancer.

“One wouldn’t expect to see an elevation in solid tumors so early — seven years is very short. Usually it takes decades,” said Cancer epidemiologist Dr. Al Neugat.

Even without the cancer link, the Lancet study makes it clear that Ground Zero responders are suffering numerous physical and mental ills.

Of those workers exposed, 42 percent have abnormal lung function and the same percentage have sinusitis. Thirty-nine percent have gastroesophageal reflux and 28 percent have asthma.

Mental illness is also more common than the general population with 9 percent suffering depression, 8 percent panic disorder and 7 percent depression.

“Look at these same men — those that are still alive ten years later — it’s disturbing to say the least,” said Kenny Specht, a former firefighter.

A federal report released in July concluded there was not enough evidence the toxic dust Ground Zero workers were exposed to actually caused their cancer, making first responders ineligible for federal compensation. That decision will likely be revisited in the wake of this report.

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