WEDNESDAY, Sept. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Sean Callan, a stone mason in New York City, was working just seven blocks from the World Trade Center when he heard the explosion of the first plane hitting the North Tower on Sept. 11, 2001.
He and other workers dropped their tools and raced toward the sound. Callan soon found himself in the South Tower, steering fleeing workers from the crippled building hit by the second plane. When the structure started to groan and creak, he ran for the exit, feeling rubble and debris -- some of it human bodies -- raining down on him as the tower collapsed.
For the next 31 days Callan volunteered at what became Ground Zero, the site where nearly 2,800 people were killed. And over a two-year period, he spent a total of 19 months at "The Pit," slicing steel, cutting concrete, hauling away debris in buckets -- and inhaling volumes of toxic dust.
In 2003, Callan was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer normally associated with exposure to asbestos. Two men working alongside him at Ground Zero were also diagnosed with the cancer. Both have died.
Ten years after the terrorist attacks, cancer is still not on the government's official list of ills caused by exposure to the Twin Towers debris. Experts note that a decade is too short a time period to link a disease like cancer -- which can have many causes, both genetic and environmental -- to such a specific source as 9/11 toxins.
But while mesothelioma usually has a longer latency period, Callan, now 59, was told by health experts that "for the initial period I was down there as a volunteer ... I was exposed to a lifetime of toxins."
Prior to 9/11, Callan added in a gravelly voice bearing the sound of his native Northern Ireland, he had been "blessed with good health."
The health effects of the Twin Towers' collapse was the focus of research published last week
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