Appearing in the October 9, 2001 New York Times by James Glanz

From Torn Steel, Cold Data of Salvage

When the twin towers fell, the two buildings that had once been admired for their endless structural and architectural complexity suddenly became a heartbreaking mass grave, a symbol of terrorism's reach, and — at a coldly physical level — 1.2 million tons of tangled debris.

But engineers and government officials understood that there was value in being much more specific and comprehensive about what materials lay in the wreckage.

It was important, for instance, to know as precisely as possible how much steel and concrete was there if a plan for removing it was going to be devised responsibly. That plan would allow the search and recovery effort to proceed as quickly as crews at the site could work. And although no lives could be saved directly with the plan, it would allow some money to be recouped for a beleaguered city from the thousands of tons of steel, copper and aluminum.

So computer programs were designed, old blueprints were scoured and individual memories were ransacked to rebuild it on paper, to determine how much steel and concrete and gypsum and glass were there. What resulted was the most detailed accounting of just what the World Trade Center had been made of, down to the terrazzo flooring.

And out of those early calculations has grown an intricate plan for removing, disposing of and, in many cases, reusing the vast amounts of material that crashed down with the trade center.

"In the grossest terms, the process is very similar to what we would do if we were going to design the trade center all over again," said Frank Lombardi, chief engineer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which built and owned six of the seven trade center buildings.

The effort is no less complicated than the original construction.

Virtually every piece of the trade center now has a prescribed destination and a path to get there. Tracked at elaborately monitored checkpoints, the materials are shuttled from cranes to trucks to docks in Manhattan and Brooklyn and from there to investigation sites, landfills and scrapyards.

Nearby scrap recyclers are already expanding their operations and have begun the job of cutting, shearing, shredding and shipping the biggest volumes of metals they have ever faced. Each of the twin towers contained some 78,000 tons of recyclable steel alone.

"It's a combination of an emergency construction job, a major demolition job and an emergency salvage and transportation job," said George Wittich, a senior vice president at Weeks Marine Inc. of Cranford, N.J., the company whose barges and dockside cranes are moving the large pieces of structural steel from the trade center.

Although official figures have not been disclosed, industry experts say that recycling the steel and other metals of the trade center could net a few tens of millions of dollars. In typical controlled demolitions of other buildings, many of the other materials — even concrete, which can be crushed to gravel — can be recovered and recycled.

But at the trade center, "it's all mixed together into one big soup," said Wayne Rawluk, vice president of the demolition division at Pacific Blasting and Demolition in Burnaby, British Columbia. "It has no value at that point."

The recycled steel could end up as anything from wire to refrigerators to automobile fenders or even I- beams for new skyscrapers, said Bob Kelman, senior vice president and general manager at Hugo Neu Schnitzer East of Jersey City, one of the scrap dealers that the city has contracted to do the work.

"Hopefully, it will be made into a series of towers that are as proud as the ones that came down," Mr. Kelman said last week as he hurried among piles of mangled girders that had been delivered from the trade center to his firm's scrapyard.

Before planning the potentially unwieldy cleanup project, officials needed to estimate the dimensions of the task they faced. Early numbers emerged from a computer program that the Army Corps of Engineers uses to gauge the debris created by natural disasters like hurricanes.

Hastily adapted to the World Trade Center, the calculations predicted that the site contained 308,900 tons of steel, 351,000 tons of concrete and a total of 1,051,000 tons of debris over all, said Beau Hanna, an Army Corps expert on debris.

For a more accurate assessment, the city and the Port Authority turned to Leslie E. Robertson Associates, one of the structural engineering firms involved in building the trade center. The firm took out the original plans and quickly started adding up the ingredients of the World Trade Center floor by floor, said William Faschan, a partner at the firm in Manhattan.

The assessment came with a striking level of detail. It estimated that each of the twin towers contained 3,881 tons of steel reinforcing in the concrete floor slabs; 47,453 tons of vertical steel columns; 8,462 tons of aluminum and glass on the exterior walls; 2,531 tons of various ceiling materials; 4,218 tons of flooring; and 31,350 tons of partitions or walls.

Added up, Mr. Lombardi of the Port Authority said, the total came to about 1,176,000 tons of debris, including about 285,000 tons of steel. After some rounding, the very rough figure of 1.2 million tons of debris was born.

The raw size of those numbers led to the development of a mazelike, if tightly controlled, system of transportation, disposal and recycling. And the journey of the center's remains can perhaps best be appreciated in following the route the steel takes, one that could wind up in Korea or China.

Last week a quick succession of flatbed trucks, each carrying 10 to 30 tons of often charred and twisted steel beams, arrived at just one of the relay points in that system, Pier 6 on the eastern edge of Lower Manhattan.

A huge floating crane marked Weeks 504 grabbed the steel with a clamshell bucket and dropped the load into one of the two barges moored on either side of it. Behind the crane, a tugboat waited to tow the barges to yet another relay point, a Port Authority pier in Brooklyn.

Jarrett Randazzo, a trucker with a ponytail and two diamond-stud earrings, explained that every truck leaving ground zero with steel passes through a checkpoint where the truck is washed with high-pressure hoses, men with torches lop off any protruding pieces of steel and investigators examine the load.

"Then you get your manifests," Mr. Randazzo said — two triplicate sets of paperwork to track the load, one filled out by a construction contractor and one by a member of the National Guard — "and then you're on your way."

The manifests are intended to prevent fraud and help the city gauge progress in clearing the wreckage. By 7 a.m. that Thursday morning, Oct. 4, exactly 1,688 truckloads had been loaded into barges at the pier, according to records kept by Weeks.

A blue barge, actually a garbage scow on loan from the city's Sanitation Department, was the first to fill up. By measuring its draft, or depth in the water, dockworkers determined that it held 443 tons of steel. The tugboat, the Kathleen, was lashed to the barge and it headed to the relay point, a Port Authority pier at the foot of Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.

"We always have a barge to load," said Rudy Wohl, a Weeks port captain, who is along for the ride. "We don't want a slowdown."

Mr. Wohl said that Weeks had 23 barges at work in the effort, 13 of its own and 10 loaners from the Sanitation Department. A spokeswoman for the department, Kathy Dawkins, said a total of 64 sanitation barges were being used in the effort at various piers.

When it reached the Port Authority pier, the Kathleen dropped off the loaded barge, picked up one of three waiting empty barges and immediately headed back to Pier 6 in Manhattan. A second tug would pick up the steel and tow it to one of two scrap recyclers, either Metal Management of Newark or Hugo Neu Schnitzer East.

The docks at Hugo Neu Schnitzer East, in the Claremont Channel in Jersey City, reveal the next leg of the journey. With a clear view of the altered skyline of Manhattan, a grappler on steel treads lifts beams out of another blue sanitation barge and adds it to a pile of wreckage that already stretches some 600 feet, reaching 30 or 40 feet high in places.

"This is a job we'd all rather not have," said Mr. Kelman, the Hugo Neu vice president, standing on a lip of the barge. Still, he said, "I'm preparing myself, if I have to, to handle 200,000 tons."

Mr. Kelman said the effort had required major expansions of his company's equipment and work force, mainly by hiring subcontractors, both at the Claremont site and at the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island, where about 40,000 tons of heavy steel was hauled in the first days after the attack.

A few steps from the grappler, a team of men with torches were already cutting beams into pieces five or six feet long. It is in that form that the material will be sent to steelmakers who will melt it down in huge ovens to make new products.

Although both the city and the scrap dealers refused to disclose financial details of their contract, William Heenan, president of the Steel Recycling Institute in Pittsburgh, said the steel scrap could be worth roughly $80 to $100 a ton when sold to a steelmaker. He said the market for scrap was typically volatile and that the dealers were taking a risk in buying so much at once.

The steel is not quite all that the city is likely to recycle. The much smaller amounts of aluminum and copper, Mr. Heenan said, "will be just as coveted as the steel." Those metals can often bring $600 to more than $1,000 a ton, Mr. Heenan said.

But those materials, which are tracked just as assiduously as the steel is, first go by barge to the Fresh Kills landfill as a part of the "mixed debris" that investigators carefully check for crime evidence and personal effects.

Out on the tug Kathleen, Mr. Wohl mourned the twin towers but praised the way in which the multifarious public and private entities had created the complex recovery effort.

Pausing to squint at the empty spot in the skyline, he said, "I guess you could say it's man at its worst that brought about man at its best around here."

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