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Author Topic: Mass illness among Ground Zero workers  (Read 1269 times)
Eric Francis
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« on: September 12, 2006, 10:22:21 AM »

So - my question is - what is in the Sept. 11 chart that speaks of this situation? Here is the chart:

Now death comes to the men who cleaned up Ground Zero

Joanna Walters in New York
Sunday September 10, 2006

The Observer

Josephine Damato is not yet a '9/11 widow' but she expects to be all too soon. 'The doctors say he is one step from cancer,' she says, her slim hand beginning to shake as she reaches out and strokes her husband Mike's wrist.

In their spacious surburban home in Long Island, a commute from New York, the couple's three daughters giggle as they play a game of pretend shopping. The oldest, Megan, nine, is in charge, while cheeky Alexandra, three, hands cake to one-year-old Daniella. There is a basketball hoop in the garden, toys dotted around and a Snoopy pennant above the front door saying 'Welcome'.

Mike Damato was fit and earning $140,000 a year as a builder until he began working at Ground Zero just hours after hijackers had flown two planes into the World Trade Centre. He is 33, but now has the lungs of an asthmatic in his sixties - the corrosive dust and toxic air he breathed for months at the disaster site are eating away at his throat and oesophagus.

More than 40,000 people, mostly men, toiled to clear the terrible pile of building, aircraft and human debris from the smouldering rubble. Now those men are beginning to die prematurely from cancers and lung diseases and a report published last week warned that 70 per cent of rescuers, contractors and volunteers at Ground Zero suffered lung damage. Many have died or are dying and others have been told they will be sick for life. 'There is going to be a new generation of 9/11 widows - more than those created by the original attacks,' said Marc Bern, a New York lawyer.

Tomorrow bells will toll and silence will once again bring a morbid solemnity to the empty space where the towers stood and where, due to political squabbling, there is not yet a permanent memorial to those who died, nor any sign of the replacement 'freedom tower'. When the memorial is finally installed, it may need an accompanying one as the rescuers also start dying.

'It's scary. I watch Mike sleeping at night, barely breathing and sometimes his chest just stops moving and I think, "Is this it?"' says Josephine.

Many nights he wakes up racked with pain as acid bubbles up from his stomach, burning his chest and throat. And he coughs fit to burst, often going down into the kitchen so as not to disturb the children.

'It's like trying to breathe through a straw,' he says. His ailments are all too familiar to the thousands of ordinary workers - not feted as heroes like the firefighters or police - affected by the toxic dump that is Ground Zero. He used to play basketball and jog. 'I used to run two or three miles. Now I have trouble walking up two flights of stairs.' He is on six different prescription medicines.

After years of denial by the authorities that mysterious deaths and illnesses cropping up among workers were linked to Ground Zero, the first solid evidence emerged in January. When New York Police Officer James Zadroga, 34, died of 'black lung disease' the coroner said his illness was caused by the toxins of Ground Zero. Other deaths began to be similarly attributed - a trickle of another three or four so far, but the trickle is likely to become a flood.

In Mike Damato's medical records, doctors confirm his illnesses are due to exposure to Ground Zero toxins. The caustic erosion of his oesophagus is at a pre-cancerous stage. He worked on the 'bucket brigade', passing pails of debris hand to hand. He was told the dust-thick air was safe and never wore a mask to protect him from inhaling microscopic particles of glass, asbestos and other carcinogens.

'It was just chaos. We started cleaning the New York Stock Exchange because that had to be open. There were pieces of the planes. There were body parts, we found fingers,' he says.

He worked there for the next three years, but was forced to give up his job as his sickness developed. The doctors would rather he did not work at all, but he has started a local bread delivery service and said he is 'just' covering the bills. Josephine says Mike used to sing all the time. Now he just coughs.

'But he's still my hero,' she says, smiling up at him.'I'm glad he helped. But now they should be helping him.'
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