Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Environmental Illnesses Haunt Some Who Covered 9/11

Daryl Lang
PDN Online
March 4, 2008

New York Times staff photographer Keith Meyers loved to tackle rigorous assignments, like flying in military jets and scuba diving with astronauts in training.

“He was almost hyper in terms of his energy level,” says friend and fellow Times photographer Fred Conrad. “He could run circles around people.”

On September 11, 2001, Meyers cut short a vacation and raced to New York to help with coverage at Ground Zero. Four days later, Meyers climbed aboard a Coast Guard helicopter to shoot a series of historic pictures, the first aerial news photos of the still-burning World Trade Center site.

As he leaned out of the helicopter, Meyers could feel the rising smoke.

“It was like breathing fire, and I could feel my skin tingling and burning,” he says. A doctor later told him he probably had been exposed to chemicals as caustic as Drano.

Over the next two years, Meyers’s health deteriorated. While covering the New York City blackout in 2003, he suffered several asthma attacks. His energy level diminished, and twice he nodded off behind the wheel while waiting at tollbooths.