Thank you. It's a real pleasure to be here today.
I'm going to discuss 9/11 itself: in particular, the collapse of the World Trade Center (WTC).
I live and work in the New York City (NYC) area. Many families in my hometown lost a family member in the WTC. But most victims survived the initial impact. The planes were not full, and some even on the floors of impact survived. Many used their cell phones after impact to call their family members and say they survived, and were in the process of evacuating the building. But then the building collapsed.
On 9/11, I was scheduled to argue a case in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, which had a clear view of the WTC. That hearing, like everything else in the NYC area, was cancelled in the wake of the fateful news. At 8:45 am local time, a hijacked 767 commercial jet airplane rammed into One World Trade Center, the North tower, fully loaded with fuel for a trans-continental flight.
My immediate reaction was that the attack occurred too early for the office building to be completely filled with workers. Unlike most places, Manhattan is not in full swing until 9:30 am local time. NYC workers are late risers and long commuters. Had the terrorists struck an hour later, the loss of life would have been far greater.
We are all stunned by the second crash. 18 minutes after the initial impact, at 9:03 am, a second jet crashed into Two World Trade Center, the South tower. (As you know, additional terrorist crashes occurred at the Pentagon at 9:43 am, and in rural Pennsylvania at 10:10 am.)
The initial impact into the WTC killed relatively few people. The planes were not filled with passengers, and the floors were not filled with workers. A few workers on the impacted floors even survived. It was the premature collapse of the towers that caused the thousands of casualties.
The South tower, which had been hit second, was the first to collapse. It fell at 10:05 am, a mere 62 minutes after being struck by the jetliner. The North tower collapsed at 10:29 am, 104 minutes after being hit. Seven World Trade Center, an adjacent 48-story building, totally collapsed around 5:20 pm despite never being hit.
The WTC was expressly designed to withstand the impact of a large commercial jetliner having comparable weight and fuel capacity as the 9/11 aircraft. Every architect of skyscrapers is familiar with the collision of the B-25 bomber into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building in heavy fog in 1945. That crash killed 14 people, but caused only $1M in damage. The structure of the building easily survived the impact and the resultant fire.
Given the design parameters and the experience with the Empire State Building, why did the WTC collapse so quickly on 9/11? And why did the North Tower remaining standing 68% longer after impact than the South Tower did?
There is one more unanswered question: why did a 48-story tower in the same complex, known as "building 7," later collapse even though it was not struck by a jetliner nor hit with significant jet fuel?
The families of the victims of the WTC attack deserve honest answers. I live in a commuter town in New Jersey, and many of the victims' families are in my church and neighboring communities. These families are not likely to receive honest answers from the ongoing $16 million government-funded investigation. Like so much of science today, politics and money distort the truth. Fortunately, we are not so constrained here.
History is illuminating here.
The World Trade Center was unique, but not by virtue of its height. Its uniqueness was that it was built and owned by government for private, commercial purposes. A brief review of the political and economic history of the WTC sheds light on its fatal safety flaw.
In the early 1960s, David Rockefeller was the preeminent real estate developer in NYC and his brother Nelson was the governor of NY. David Rockefeller had just completed the 60-story Chase Manhattan Bank Tower in lower Manhattan in 1960, the first skyscraper there in a generation. He needed more development to energize the neighborhood.
He established an organization, the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association (DLMA) to float the idea of a $250M trade center in lower Manhattan. He cleverly prodded the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to "study" the proposal.
Those of us from the NYC area know the Port Authority well. It is a very powerful government entity, established in 1921, which operates the bridges, tunnels and airports around NYC. In some respects it has more power and authority than NYC itself. It can seize property, dictate travel, and secure credit. The Port Authority did not even have to comply with NYC building codes. This is not an entity that ever should have built commercial towers for private use.
Before the arrival of the Rockefellers, the Port Authority itself was opposed to the idea of a WTC. Its Chairman Howard Cullman declared that the proposed building was "primarily an extensive real estate operation" and thus inappropriate for the "self-perpetuating public benefit corporation" of the Port Authority.
Once Nelson Rockefeller became governor of New York, he installed four loyalists on the board of the Port Authority, and its view changed. Despite vociferous objections by small businessmen in the area, the Port Authority endorsed the project. The NY Times editorial page insisted that "no project has ever been more promising for New York." The Washington Post supported it from afar. Gov. Nelson Rockefeller signed enabling legislation on March 27, 1962. Detractors said the twin towers should be named Nelson and David.
The construction was everything one might expect from a government project. It was more expensive and took longer to build than a private counterpart. The WTC was also less attractive, efficient and safe than privately built buildings.
The supporters of the WTC said its cost would be $350M, but by completion more than a decade later its actual costs were at least double that. It lost money through the 1970s and probably never recouped the value of its investment and expenses. It took the dot-com boom of the 1990s, not world trade, to push occupancy to high levels. Though sold to the public as government-promoted export-import, only 5% of the WTC leases were held by trade service and import-export tenants. The original plan for a brotherhood of shipping concerns to do business out of one building turned out to be a non-starter because these competitive shippers did not want share the same building.
In contrast, the Sears Tower cost in the neighborhood of only $150M - only about one-fifth the cost of the WTC, even though they were built at around the same time. The WTC took nearly a decade to be completed. The Sears Tower was built in only 3 years.
In 1993, on a day that I was in New York, a terrorist detonated a bomb at the WTC. Smoke filled the building and its vulnerability to fire or collapse was exposed. Does anyone know how much it cost to restore it? Government spent an outrageous $525M to clean up the mess, more than the inflation-adjusted cost of building the Sears Tower from scratch. And, of course, no asbestos fire-proofing was added to the WTC after the 1993 attack, despite its demonstrated vulnerability.
Why do government buildings often exceed reasonable costs? Ray Monti, a construction manager on the WTC project, explained: "There's a natural tendency in all government projects to want to convince others to authorize you to proceed. One puts a favorable interpretation on the facts." He then explained that the tendency is the opposite once the project gets started. "Once I'm started, what are you going to do to me? Stop the building in the middle?" Of course not - that would be a disaster for the politicians in charge.
The original plans for the WTC called for 70 stories, which would have been more in line with its surroundings. But the quest for media attention drove its height to record-breaking levels. "Is that two buildings with fifty-five stories each?" Nelson Rockefeller once asked the architect. "Oh no," he replied. "One-hundred-ten stories apiece!" "My God!" Nelson gushed. "These towers will make David's building [i.e., Chase Manhattan Bank Tower] look like an out-house!"
The workmanship on the WTC was superb. Mohawk Indians traveled down from Canada each week to work at the enormous heights required. According to a book on the WTC by Rutgers Professor Angus Gillespie, the Indians were remarkably fearless of heights and worked on every high steel and bridge project in Canada, and later many in North America including the WTC. They would walk a narrow beam high up in the air completely impervious to the altitude.
Professor Gillespie quoted a letter by a bridge company official in connection with the construction of a bridge across the St. Lawrence River by the Mohawk Indians: "As the work progressed, it became apparent to all concerned that the Indians were very odd in that they did not have any fear of heights. If not watched, they would climb up into the spans and walk around up there as cool and collected as the toughest of our riveters, most of whom at the period were old sailing ship men especially picked for their experience in working aloft."
But while the workmanship was excellent, the design was not. Architectural critics unanimously panned the WTC. Harper's magazine called it "The World's Tallest Fiasco." The American Institute of Architects said that "the public agency that built [the WTC] ran amok with both money and aesthetics." Paul Goldberger, the prominent architectural critic for the NY Times, called the WTC "so utterly banal as to be unworthy of the headquarters of a bank in Omaha." The WTC committed the architectural error of ignoring its surroundings, sticking out like a sore pair of thumbs. The adjacent skyscrapers looked Lilliputian in comparison.
It was a government, one-size-fits-all approach. For example, there were originally no light switches in the offices. The lights would typically remain on unless shut off in unison. The floors were identical to each other, and bland. Windows were narrow. The towers were little more than a single shaft, straight up for 110 stories. It's a steel skyscraper version of government buildings in Washington, D.C.
Its main flaw was its lack of safety. The decision to use mostly steel (60/40) in the WTC made it vulnerable to fires. Concrete, which dominates the Empire State Building (60/40) withstands fire far better than steel does, and experts are confident that the Empire State Building would not have collapsed after a 9/11-type of attack. Nor would the Sears Tower, which uses 9 structurally separate tubes rather than merely one tube used by each WTC tower. I used to visit the WTC frequently: one shaft, straight up.
The original design and construction of the WTC included fire-proofing of the steel. The longstanding industry standard for steel skyscrapers was to use spray-on asbestos in order to fire-proof the steel. Otherwise, unprotected steel will warp, melt, sag and ultimately collapse when heated to normal fire temperatures around 1100 to 1200 degrees Fahrenheit.
By mixing dry asbestos with water and spraying the mixture onto the steel beams as well as the floors and ceilings, the asbestos adds resilient strength and insulation against fire to the structure.
The spray contractor, Mario and DiBono, had taken one additional level of precaution. In the first and last time for a NYC building, the contractor guarded against the scattering of dried asbestos. The contractor even planned elaborate procedures for cleanup and disposal of the asbestos. Canvas was used to seal off the spraying of the asbestos from both interior and exterior space.
The North Tower was built first, and asbestos was applied in this manner up to its 64th floor. Then hysteria about asbestos broke loose.
At the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in uptown NYC, where my wife later attended medical school, Dr. Irving J. Selikoff was director of the environmental sciences laboratory. He declared that high concentrations of asbestos cause cancer.
Well, high concentrations of many useful substances cause cancer. Sunlight causes skin cancer, for example. We do not prohibit items simply because they may be associated with cancer in high doses. Even useless substances, like cigarettes, are not banned from the market simply because they cause cancer.
Moreover, Dr. Selikoff failed to adjust for tobacco use in his study. Tobacco is known to cause lung cancer, more frequently than asbestos does. It was a fatal defect not to separate out the smokers from the non-smokers in the study, and describe the minuscule risk of asbestos exposure to non-smokers.
Environmental regulators, however, are anxious to flex their power regardless of the facts. David Kessler of the FDA, for example, became dictator-for-a-day by temporarily banning all breast implants, even though countless studies showed no causation of cancer.
The Environmental Protection Agency seized upon Dr. Selikoff's asbestos work and issued new regulations sharply restricting use of asbestos. The regulations and hysteria abruptly halted the use of asbestos-sprayed fireproofing in the WTC and elsewhere. The government then simply continued to complete the project without the asbestos protection. The South Tower received little to no asbestos. Building 7, completed in 1987, received no asbestos protection against fire.
The inventor of the asbestos spray being used in the North Tower, Herbert Levine, was despondent. Harvard physics professor emeritus Richard Wilson heard Levine make the following prediction more than once: "If a fire breaks out above the 64th floor [of the North Tower], that building will fall down." The insulation was designed to protect the building from collapse for four hours, which would have save many hundreds or thousands of trapped occupants. Professor Wilson noted that "Levine's product has never been shown to cause trouble to anybody."
Brooklyn College environmental scientist Arthur Langer, who once supported Dr. Selikoff's claims, was quoted in the New York Times September 18 as saying, "In retrospect, considering the recent events...I wonder if the performance characteristics of the replacement material were as good." Dr. Selikoff's successor at Mount Sinai, Dr. Philip Landrigan, conceded that the quality of non-asbestos insulation is "a legitimate question."
After the collapse of the WTC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tested the debris for toxins. There was astoundingly little asbestos, and hence little protection against fire. 26/29 bulk samples had less than 1% asbestos. The CDC then tested 3 samples taken from the pivotal I-beams themselves. One was completely negative for asbestos, and the other two had less than 1% asbestos. The air samples had less than 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter, the low federal threshold. (See CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 31, 2002, Vol. 51, No. 21, pages 453-55.).
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber. We are inhaling it now. Urban air has asbestos fiber levels around 0.001 fibers per cubic centimeter of air (f/cm3). San Francisco and many cities are built on rocks that naturally contain asbestos. Asbestos has extraordinary resistance to heat, mechanical stress and water. It is flexible and has low electrical conductivity. It is also resistant to acids and alkalies, making it useful in guarding against corrosion. It is composed of silicon, the building block of integrated circuits, and oxygen, hydrogen and various metals. No other material can rival its usefulness in buildings. Its resistance to fire and stress made it a popular construction material from the 1930's until the 1970's.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) set a permissible exposure limit of 10 fibers per cubic centimeter of air (10 f/cm3) in the 1970's, but due to litigation and pressure that exposure level has been reduced to a current level of 0.1 f/cm3. Employees who are exposed for more than thirty days above 0.1 f/cm3 each year are considered to be asbestos workers and require medical exams (as well as other requirements).
Asbestosis is the most common disease resultant from exposure to asbestos. But it is non-malignant. In advanced cases, it merely causes a dry cough.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer associated with exposure to asbestos. It affects the thin membranes lining the abdomen and chest.
The CDC studied the number of deaths from asbestosis and mesothelioma in New Hampshire over a 20 year period from 1963 through 1983. Only 13 died from mesothelioma; 9 died from asbestosis. In sum, only about one person in New Hampshire died per year from these asbestos-related diseases. Moreover, the average age of those deaths were not much different from the average life expectancy in the United States. In fact, those with asbestosis lived longer than the average American life expectancy.
In 1998, the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine reported no increased risk of death from cancer because of prolonged exposure to asbestos. Based on a thorough study of mines and mills that have the world's greatest concentration of asbestos, the researchers concluded: "The [Environmental Protection Agency] model overestimated the risk of asbestos-induced lung cancer by at least a factor of 10."
Harvard University's Energy and Environmental Policy Center rank asbestos as a comparative risk of premature death as follows:
The EPA not only exaggerated the effect of asbestos, it also ignored its benefits in effectively banning it from buildings in the 1970s.
However, smoking does cause lung cancer, and hundreds of thousands of smokers die each year from it. Had the law recognized and applied the doctrine of intervening cause, then the frenzy over asbestos may have never occurred. But the courts opened their gates to attorneys claiming that smokers contracted their lung disease from exposure to asbestos. The issue was presented to juries, beginning as early as the 1960s, and enormous verdicts began rolling in.
No government-funded scientist is willing to defend asbestos. This enables those profiting from asbestos to fan public fear to astounding levels. Just this past week, the front-page headline in my local paper was that asbestos was found in a public park. Well, asbestos occurs in nature and floats in water. What's the big deal? An executive with an environmental group demanded that "It's time to close this park. It's time to clean it up."
The direct economic cost of the 9/11 attack is estimated to be between $40 and $60 billion. That is an enormous figure, about ten times the insured value of the buildings themselves.
As large as the 9/11 costs are, however, they pale in comparison to the estimated costs of asbestos litigation. The Economist magazine recently put the cost of asbestos litigation at $200 billion. That is probably a low estimate.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly implored Congress to save the courts from having to handle asbestos lawsuits. But the usual victims of this litigation are engineering companies that lack political muscle and are no match for the political clout of the trial lawyers.
America's top asbestos producer, Johns Manville, was forced into bankruptcy in 1982. By 1992, Lloyds of London was averaging nearing $3 billion a year in losses, due mostly to asbestos claims.
Asbestos litigation has pushed at least 60 companies into bankruptcy since 2000, including Bethlehem Steel. Judgments are often imposed with little regard for proof of wrongdoing or causation. Encouraged by porous legal standards, asbestos attorneys have filed claims for more than 1.4 million persons, against more than 1,400 companies. More than 90,000 new claims were filed just last year. Only 6% of those claimants actually suffered from an asbestos-related illness.
In 2000, the four major companies sent into bankruptcy by asbestos were Armstrong World Industries (construction products), Babcock & Wilcox (boilers), Burns and Roe (engineering and construction), and Pittsburgh Corning (glass insulation). In 2001, asbestos litigation casualties included the chemical and materials giant W.R. Grace (which did not even make asbestos), the prominent construction materials company G.A.F., the gypsum wallboard maker USG, and the auto-parts maker Federal-Mogul.
In the past eight months, Fortune 500 victims of the asbestos litigation monster have seen sudden drops in their stock prices. Hit with a Texas-sized verdict last December, Halliburton stock abruptly dropped 43 percent.
In February, a Manhattan jury awarded $53 million to the estate of a deceased auto mechanic who allegedly died from exposure to asbestos in brake linings. That decision jeopardizes the entire auto industry; full-page ads for auto mechanics with lung cancer now run in New York newspapers.
As confirmed by an auto mechanic in attendance at this conference, the performance behavior of asbestos in brakes is steady and predictable. Asbestos brakes wear out very slowly, thereby alerting drivers when it becomes necessary to replace them. But the same cannot be said for the asbestos substitutes, which can degrade quickly based on heat and other climatic conditions. Cars and trucks on our highways today are using inadequate substitutes for asbestos in their brakes, thanks to 20,000 lawsuits against the big three auto makers over past asbestos use. By the end of last year (2001), more than 3,500 lawsuits were being filed each month against Ford, GM and DaimlerChrysler based on junk science and past use of asbestos.
In March, a West Virginia jury ordered DuPont to pay $6.4 million to a bank officer who died of mesothelioma. A bank officer?! How could he have been exposed to asbestos? The banker was allegedly injured by fibers that might have attached to the clothing of his father who worked with asbestos at DuPont.
Some of the cases involve heavy, lifelong smokers who claim they have asbestosis, an asbestos-related disease. Plaintiffs and defendants bring in medical experts who testify to contrary diagnoses, and the jury is left to decide, often against the corporate defendants.
Senior United States District Court Judge Charles R. Weiner observed: "Today, given the volume of claims and the disappearance of any effective injury requirement, defendants are paying those who are not really injured."
In February, 2,645 plaintiffs sued asbestos attorneys, claiming that "this case arises from corruption within the asbestos personal injury bar." Reports are that the majority of asbestos settlements enrich the attorneys, rather than going to the allegedly harmed individuals.
On the Asbestos Network website, there is the following statement: "In the workplace, there is no 'safe' level of exposure." This falsehood is music to the ears of the asbestos bar. It promotes the mistaken view that anyone exposed to asbestos in any way should be able to sue for damages. The runaway litigation has distorted the science.
The US Supreme Court recently accepted for review the latest outrageous example of asbestos litigation. A West Virginia state court awarded millions of dollars to a few workers without evidence of physical or independently corroborated emotional harm from exposure to asbestos, and without apportioning damages based on relative culpability. Imagine that - millions of dollars in damages without proven harm. Let's hope the Supreme Court finally begins to curtail the abusive asbestos litigation. Better late than never. (Norfolk & Western Railway Co. v. Ayers, Freeman et al.)
The asbestos panic has even become a political scandal for Vice President Dick Cheney. He orchestrated a merger by his company, Halliburton, with a company vulnerable to asbestos claims, Dresser Industries. The rampant asbestos lawsuits subsequently weakened Halliburton's stock after the acquisition. Piling fiction upon fiction, attorneys now argue that Cheney should have done due diligence and learned that the runaway asbestos litigation would infect and substantially weaken Halliburton.
All this for a substance that, in the words of Professor R.S. Mitchell of the University of Colorado School of Medicine, does not even initiate cancer: "Asbestos is regarded as a promoter, not an initiator, of lung cancer."
Tens of millions of dollars in government money are being spent on investigations of the WTC collapse. Paid for by government, these studies are designed to exonerate government. A researcher would risk his career and future funding by asserting that government negligence or malfeasance contributed to the WTC collapse. Don't expect to find anyone anxious to do that.
Also, do not expect the government to release its data in connection with the WTC. When the conclusions of the government studies are announced, it is unlikely that the underlying data will be released for scrutiny.
Silence by academic scientists about junk science is a growing problem. On July 19th, The Christian Science Monitor reported on some high-profile examples of scientific fraud. The article noted that some scientists "say publicized cases of scientific misconduct are only the tip of the iceberg. Surveys have indicated that scientists often are aware of misconduct in their labs but fail to report it. Research also shows that small but significant numbers of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows would be willing to fudge or ignore data if it helped them land research grants or publish a paper."
Asbestos hysteria falls in that category. There is enormous financial and political motivation behind perpetuating the exaggerated fears. Nothing but silence is on the other side.
Many government-funded scientists claimed in the aftermath of 9/11 that no structure could have survived such an attack. That's plainly false. Steel reinforced by concrete, as used by the Empire State Building, would have almost certainly survived. Steel protected by asbestos would have survived as a function of how much asbestos was used. This is demonstrated by the ability of the partially asbestos-protected North Tower to stand 68% longer after impact than the South Tower.
The tragic reality is that all buildings constructed after the asbestos ban are vulnerable to premature collapse. Building 7 was a full block away from the South Tower, and yet it collapsed later that day despite never being hit. Why? Building 7 had none of the asbestos protection of older buildings. The heat from fire makes it collapse like a pup tent, as will numerous modern skyscraper-and-steel buildings. Many of the firefighters who die in service each year are actually victims of premature collapses of buildings.
Are many of our modern skyscrapers fire traps because of the asbestos scam? Maybe. WTC buildings 4, 5 and 6 were all built in the 1970s, and did not collapse on 9/11. Building 7 was built in the 1980s and did collapse from the heat.
Other apologists pretend it does not matter that the building collapsed, because supposedly the persons trapped above impact could not have escaped regardless. But that is also plainly false. Brian Clark was in his office on the 84th floor of the South Tower when it was struck by the jet, and he survived by escaping down an available staircase. His story is available online at PBS's website (www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/wtc/above.html). The plane struck his building 4-6 stories below him, at about the 78-80th floors. He described many others around him who ended up dying in the collapse of the building. In addition to Brian Clark, there were at least 15 others who did survive despite being in the top floors of the South Tower. An entire stairway to the higher floors provided a passageway for occupants to escape long after impact. But the quick collapse of the building in a mere 62 minutes prevented many from surviving. Brian Clark lost many dozens of his friends and colleagues.
Then there are those who claim that simply because asbestos does contribute to lung cancer in some individuals, particularly smokers with high exposure to asbestos fibers, it must be banned regardless of the consequences for building fires like the one on 9/11. This is the most irresponsible claim of all. The simple fact is that no at the EPA or anyone else accurately studied the costs of banning asbestos.
The United States has one of the highest fire death rates in the industrialized world. It amounts to an average of 4,500 killed and 26,500 injured annually as a result of fire. 100 firefighters are killed each year from duty-related incidents, often from premature collapses of buildings as occurred on 9/11. Fires kill more Americans than all other natural disasters combined. Direct property loss due to fires is estimated at $8.5 billion annually.
Asbestos is the best defense against fire. There is no substitute. No other material even approaches the strength and resistance of asbestos. It never should have been banned from the WTC, and should not be banned from other buildings either. Many deaths in routine fires are due to the building collapsing. Asbestos would greatly reduce the numbers of those deaths.
We accept the common use of risky materials every day. Should we outlaw sunbathing because it causes cancer? Require everyone to walk around in space suits? Automobiles, to take another example, are far more dangerous than asbestos. So are cigarettes. Many widely used foods are dangerous. Mistakes in hospitals are dangerous. But we do not prohibit something simply because it has risks associated with it.
Unjustified scientific demands to ban asbestos have caused thousands of unnecessary deaths in fires, including some deaths on 9/11. We should again never permit such bad science and their tragic consequences.