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'I wished I had never gone there'

Title: 'I wished I had never gone there'
Date: Friday, 5 October 2007
Publisher: Philadelphia Inquirer
Author: Art Carey
Main source:

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On 9/11, Bobby Morrill got a call from his cousin Bobby Stewart, project manager for a construction company, inviting him to come to Manhattan to help clean up the mess.

Morrill, who lives in Newark, was there the next day. He worked for 36 hours nonstop, directing fellow ironworkers as they began untangling the mound of twisted steel beams and girders. That first night, Morrill slept under a table in Battery Park.

He wound up spending 10 weeks at Ground Zero, supervising crews that labored on "the pile," dismantled a destroyed pedestrian bridge and removed a steel beam that had pierced the corner of the American Express Building and was lodged like a seesaw 200 feet above the street.

For most of that time, he did not wear a respirator. His office trailer was a hundred feet behind the line where OSHA required workers to wear protection. "A big mistake," he says now.

In the fall of 2002, sores began appearing all over Morrill's body. The sores would itch, Morrill would scratch. When the lesions ruptured, they emitted a watery discharge. In early 2003, Morrill went to a dermatologist. Nothing serious, he was told. He was given an antibiotic salve, which he applied generously. The sores remained.

Morrill was also having difficulty breathing. He was coughing constantly and bringing up sputum from his lungs. Most days, he spent the morning vomiting and feeling nauseated. During one three-day spell, he was so sick that he couldn't get out of bed. His muscles and bones were stiff and achy.

"The muscles in my hip were locking up," Morrill says. "I couldn't walk to the mailbox. I had to sit down because I had no energy or strength. I'm used to going like the hammers of hell. Now I had to slow down. You get depressed when you can't do nothing."

Last spring, Bobby Stewart's wife told Morrill about the detox program. Still beset by sores, fatigue and poor lung capacity, Morrill signed up. After eight days, he began to feel better. Slowly, the sores and lesions cleared up.

Most people spend about 35 days in the program. Morrill did it for 88, completing the regimen in mid-June. "When I left, I felt perfect," he says.

Since then, the lung congestion and shortness of breath have begun returning, he says. He estimates that his lung capacity is only 40 percent, and he exercises every other day on a treadmill to boost his stamina. He wonders whether part of the problem is that he overexerted himself. Recently, Morrill, 68, put a new roof on his brother's house in Virginia, a job that entailed carrying 102 bundles of shingles.

His health is vastly better now than it was before, he says, and he's convinced the detox program removed poisons from his body. "I ain't nauseated and sick," he says. But he's less certain that his lungs are free of asbestos and other particles and irritants.

"Asbestosis is a gradual process," Morrill says. "Like emphysema, I guess."

"I wished I had never gone there," he says of Ground Zero. "After retirement, you want to go places. But now I can't, because I don't feel good. I get shortness of breath and I get tired. So I stick around the house a lot. Don't go fishing anymore. It messes up your life."