16 years after 9/11, responders cope with health woes

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In the years after the Sept. 11 attacks, many of the men and women who rushed to ground zero to help have been suffering.

Ken George, of North Babylon, remembers moving a beam on Sept. 11 and seeing "green smoke" come out of the ground. That's when his troubles started with a bad cough. Now it's a struggle just to get around.

The retired city highway department worker was part of the bucket brigade -- one of thousands involved in the search and rescue at the pile after the attacks on Sept. 11.  In the years, that followed, George suffered a heart attack, was diagnosed with restricted airway disease, PTSD and gastric reflux. He now takes more than 30 medications per day.

"Some people say you have to let it go. And every morning I have to take a cocktail of pills. So how do you let it go?" he says.

Medical researchers estimate that the dust that lingered in the air at ground zero in the days and weeks that followed contained a hazardous mixture of particles, including asbestos and glass. Many who worked at the site have gotten cancer and since died.

"The whole big question for the scientists to look at was how many of these people would have gotten these cancers had they not been exposed versus how many who got cancer because they were exposed," explains Dr. Paul Pipia, of Nassau University Medical Center.

George says it's too painful to go to the funerals of first responders anymore -- he says now he just focuses on his kids and his grandkids.

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