30 October 2001: Link to related call for independent investigation of the WTC failure:
13 September 2001: Thanks to EM for link to discussion of asbestos/toxic hazards at WTC: http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/9/12/192330/380
13 September 2001
The New York Times reports today that engineers who have studied the original WTC construction documents assert that asbestos was not used as a fireproofing material, as was common practice at the time and as presumed by the comments below (though other reports on Kuro5hin.org claim the material used did contain asbestos). However, environmental officials say that other asbestos-containing materials were used in the building; tests show contamination at the disaster site by asbestos and other hazardous materials; and pose a danger to workers there but not to a wider area. Another report claims that the Port Authority in the past implemented asbestos remediation by encasement procedures though systems affected were not described. Encasement is likely to have been destroyed in the collapse. A remedition method which impregnates asbestos with a bonding agent could have survived the collapse and prevent blowing fibers.
13 September 2001: Add comment on Port Authority.
12 September 2001. See related comments on the WTC collapse.
Comments welcome. Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hazards of the World Trade Center
John Young practices archtitecture in New York City.
Date: 12 September 2001
On the asbestosis threat, the WTC contained enormous amounts of asbestos. The two collapses probably released more asbestos debris at one time than ever in history. Today we saw dozens of workers clad in full asbestos protection suits resting, waiting to be sent back to the site. I've seen no photos of them in the news, nor mention of the great clouds of asbestos-contaminated smoke that has spread over the city, and continues to be spread as vehicles drive through the deep layers of contaminated dust on the streets and sidewalks. Blocks of buildings are covered with this carcinogen, wind whipping it regularly on its way to the outer boroughs and New Jersey, even out to sea to attack the protecting US naval fleet.
Again, the WTC was not required to comply with building and environmental codes governing asbestos amelioration due its being constructed by the Port Authority which was exempt from compliance.
The history of pernicious practices by these quasi-governmental "authorities" is worth reading, from the Tennessee Valley Authority to New York's Urban Development Corporation (now Empire State Development), Dormitory Authority and Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. There are dozens of these around the country set up to bypass bureaucratic controls, to market bonds, to design, build and operate facilities, and some of them have become quite wealthy, such as the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, Robert Moses's home base and still the source of great patronage from its bulging coffers.
On the question of rebuilding the towers, I think not likely, at least not in their original form. Perhaps a diminished version, safer to people and the urban environment, in full compliance with building, zoning and environmental codes.
On the question of buildings being constructed to not fall when a neighbor falls. That requirement in NYC is covered by its earthquake design regulations -- the city is in an earthquake zone. However those requirements are for only a modest amount of restraint against lateral movement and would not have prevented the kind of damage caused by the two towers' hundreds of thousands of tons of debris impacting the base and walls of adjacent buildings. Calamitous earthquakes such as those in Kobe, Japan, Mexico City and elsewhere have produced that kind of collateral damage. However, no major quake has ever hit buildings like the WTC, though minor quakes have been withstood by buildings designed for that purpose.
Finally, design professionals are bound by capacious building, zoning and environmental codes, and corresponding licensing, those of NY State and City considered to be some of the best in the world. Much of that reputation is based on being the first to attempt daring feats of construction and to serve as a testing laboratory, for good or for ill. The same goes for health, education and social benefit standards. The city presents an almost unparalleled testing ground for bold experiments in avarice and welfare and the collateral damage of their competition. I suspect that is why it is so loved and hated by its inhabitants as well as the planet.
I never heard the Twin Towers referred to as "beloved" as are so many of the globe's architectural landmarks of avarice. Perhaps in death that will happen as with venerated ruins of folly.
Date: 13 September 2001
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (its official name) has a large, highly qualified archtectural and engineering department, which overseas design, construction and operation, including security, of the two states' shared airports and seaports.
The PA is not obliged to submit its projects to state and municipal authorities for approval but most often coordinates with these authorities and generally meets -- or exceeds -- construction requirements of conventional governments. This is true of most of these distincitive authorities as far as I know.
In New York City it is the Department of Buildings which oversees construction, along with Departments of Fire, Health, Landmarks Preservation and Highways. The DoB promulgates and enforces the Building Code, one of the strictest in the world.
The Planning Commission oversees land and building use, and building bulk and height regulations, as promulgated by the Zoning Resolution.
Designs for construction must comply with the Building Code and Zoning Resolution, but as elsewhere, there is intense negotiation over compliance. New York City has an entire industry, separate from design professionals, which negotiates compliance due to large costs involved and what are believed to be arcane, even corrupt provisions in regulations. This leads to much daring innovation, to put it politely, at every step of review of construction documents and during construction.
As a young architect I was told and believed that construction in the city was irreversibly corrupt. No longer, 30 years on. What I know now is that a small number of people at all times continue to work to improve the system for public safety and security, not just in NYC but in all human settlements. I am humbled to know and work with and learn from these few. I was never told about them in professional training, and you seldom read about them in the media. They work in government and private industry, in universities and hospitals, yes, and in what appear to be 100% venal professional firms. Many labor for much less than they could earn in the private sector, some pro bono, and some are those are in the Port Authority and similar public authorities for which I am most grateful knowing that the private and commercial real estate industry falls well below their standards of safety and security.