Jon E. Dougherty is a Missouri-based political science major, author, writer and columnist. Follow him on Twitter.
The collapse of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center shortly after being struck by airliners occurred because New York City banned the use of asbestos as a fire retardant during the buildings’ construction, one industry expert has alleged.
Ground-level view of the Twin Towers prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.
“The Trade Tower design – the one referred to as able to resist the crash of a Boeing 707 – specified the use of asbestos insulation on the supporting columns,” said chemistry professor Art Robinson, writing in the September edition of Access to Energy, a monthly science and technology newsletter.
“This was used on all columns up to the 64th floors. Then, however, in 1971 when the Trade Center Towers were still under construction, New York City banned this use of asbestos,” Robinson, who is also a founder of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, said.
The institute is a small research facility founded in 1980 to conduct basic and applied research in subjects immediately applicable to improvements in human life, including biochemistry, diagnostic medicine, nutrition, preventive medicine and aging, according to organization literature.
“Asbestos was an early victim of junk science and enviro-fear propaganda,” Robinson said. Environmental activists “were joined by opportunistic lawyers and businessmen who reaped large profits from the anti-asbestos program. There was not a shred of evidence that insulating buildings with asbestos was harmful to human health,” he added.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, asbestos – a mineral that first became widely used in the U.S. in the 1940s – causes different types of cancer, as well as chronic breathing problems for those routinely exposed to it.
One study found that workers exposed to asbestos who smoke are about 90 times more likely to develop lung cancer than people who neither smoke nor have been exposed to asbestos, the EPA says.
But other scientists agree with Robinson. In 1998, for example, Montreal epidemiologist Michel Camus and two colleagues, writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, said their study found “no measurable excess risk of death due to lung cancer” due to “exposure to moderate levels of asbestos. …”
The researchers analyzed the health records of thousands of women from a district in Quebec known to contain the world’s largest concentration of asbestos mines and mills.
Also, in the immediate aftermath of the Twin Towers collapse, the EPA moved to calm fears, pointing out that although the North Tower contained some asbestos, New York City residents were not in danger from asbestos-related disease because, the agency explained, the mineral was harmful only if breathed at high levels and over sustained periods of time.
Heat, fire weakens towers’ columns
Robinson said the Twin Towers were designed to withstand a raging four-hour fire before its steel beam infrastructure lost enough of its strength and collapsed. In the intervening time frame, experts believed that tower visitors and workers below the fire level would have ample opportunity to escape, while those trapped in floors above the fire would be plucked from the roof by helicopter.
However, Tower One collapsed one hour and 40 minutes after it was struck by the first airliner; Tower Two collapsed after 56 minutes of fire.
“Had the towers stood for four hours, an estimated 5,000 people would still be alive, and the buildings would probably still be proudly standing – with large gashes in their upper floors,” Robinson said.
In making his case, Robinson quoted the designer of the asbestos steel-beam coating procedure banned in New York City during the construction of the towers.
The inventor, Herbert Levine, often said during the final phases of WTC construction in the 1970s: “If a fire breaks out above the 64th floor, that building will fall down.”
Robinson pointed out that skyscrapers like the Empire State Building have their steel columns insulated with concrete – which is expensive and difficult to use.
But, “in the late 1940s, Herbert Levine invented a spray fireproofing composed of asbestos and mineral wool. This invention was instrumental in allowing the construction of large steel-framed buildings,” he said.
Levine’s company did not get the contract to insulate the steel beams of the Twin Towers, but he had confidence in the company that did win the contract until New York banned asbestos and forced the winning contractor to use a “jury-rigged substitute insulation.”
Still, other experts believe the collapse of the buildings may have been inevitable, given the circumstances.
“The impact of aircraft of more than 100 tons, at a velocity of several hundred miles per hour, with a fire load of thousands of gallons of kerosene are not things we contemplate for our clients on a day-to-day basis,” said John A. Hill, president of the UK-based Institution of Structural Engineers. He believes that a willful terrorist can always find a way to demolish any structure.
Others say the heat of the fires generated by the planes took its toll on the steel beams supporting the towers.
“It was the fire that killed the buildings – nothing on earth could survive those temperatures with that amount of fuel burning,” said Chris Wise, another British structural engineer. “The columns would have melted, the floors would have melted, and eventually they would have collapsed one on top of each other.”
Robinson says the jet fuel-laden fires did not generate an unusual amount of heat, instead only generating the amount of heat such fires would normally produce. The difference, he insists, was that the towers “were not properly insulated, causing them to become weak by the heat of a sustained fire.”
“It’s notable that Mr. Levine didn’t make his comments after the attacks, but instead made them 30 years ago,” Robinson told WND. “And he was the world’s expert on insulating steel columns.”
Robinson also said he was “certain” that had the columns been insulated with asbestos, the towers would have remained standing “long enough” for many more people to have escaped.
“Whether that means both buildings would currently still be standing, that’s a question,” he said. “But we wouldn’t be looking at 5,000 deaths.”
Ground for the towers was broken Aug. 5, 1966. The towers were opened sequentially, as floors and sections were completed, beginning in 1970. All floor space was completed and both towers were completely opened during a ribbon cutting ceremony April 4, 1973.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey owned the towers, as well as five other WTC-related buildings located within the complex in Lower Manhattan. Building No. 7 also collapsed the afternoon of the attacks.