ZERO FOR SALE
Dust will settle ... elsewhere
The Twin Towers opened for business amid great fanfare in
1975, becoming one of the world's best-known landmarks,
rivaling the architectural marvels of the Eiffel Tower, The
Taj Mahal, and the Sydney Opera House, among others. When its
majestic structural complexity was reduced to smoke and dust
on September 11, the country's emotional contagion of grief
and despair spread throughout the land as quickly as the acrid
odor of the towers' refuse permeated Manhattan.
Earthquakes and bombs have decimated cities before, and
large buildings have tumbled in the past, but never has there
been a catastrophe of this magnitude, in so small a space.
Before its collapse within these few blocks of lower
Manhattan, the two 110-story skyscrapers teemed each day with
enough workers and visitors to fill a city with a population
of 50,000 people.
While our compassion and patriotism ran at an all time high
as we mourned the loss of lives and our innocence - within a
few short months our emotional solidarity shifted to what some
deem a cold-hearted financial perspective. What to do with the
1.2 million tons of tangled debris and charred steel girders?
President George W. Bush's prophetic tome post-September 11
of "these acts shattered steel but they cannot shatter
the steel of American resolve" resonates not only
figuratively but also on a literal level. The business of
doing business in a capitalistic society is just that ...
The yellow tape of a crime scene was quickly replaced by a
"for sale" sign.
The U.S. scrap-recycling industry is a $20 billion a year
enterprise. The World Trade Center wreckage is expected to
produce an estimated 300,000 tons of structural steel.
Industry experts estimated the city's Design and
Construction Department could sell the steel to recyclers for
$75 to $100 a ton. Once cut and reforged, it could then be
resold for $220 to $600 a ton.
So while the swift journey from smoldering rubble to
recycling furnaces was controversial to many, the lucrative
upside appears to have been too great to ignore. While
victims' families were outraged by the selling of the steel
that entombed their loved ones, typically, such scrap was
capable of building skyscrapers, roads, bridges, cars ... even
Metal Management Northeast of Newark, New Jersey and Hugo
Neu Schnitzer East (one of the largest scrap recyclers in the
nation) of Jersey City, New Jersey won the initial bids from
NYC to recycle the Trade Center steel. Workers at the Hugo Neu
salvage yard, just a mile across the Hudson River from the
Trade Center actually witnessed the towers fall from their New
Jersey vantagepoint. Their job was to torch, shred, cut and
resell to steelmakers who will melt it down in huge ovens to
make new products.
So who will purchase the remains of 9/11 from the
Ironically, steel demand remains weak in the U.S. as the
three major American automakers — Ford, General Motors and
Chrysler — announced plans to idle seven plants in response
to slow new vehicle sales since the September 11 attacks.
Consequently, U.S. recyclers are increasingly turning to
Asian markets, where mills pay from 5 percent to 10 percent
more than domestic firms. Interestingly, much of the original
steel from the World Trade Center was forged in Japan and the
global steel industry is now concentrated in their country as
well as China, India, and Korea.
Several vessels have already sailed from New York with
consignments of scrap. Among them are the extremely dense
steel girders from Ground Zero, which could finally total
between 250,000 to 400,000 tons.
At least one shipload onboard a vessel named Brozna, landed
in the South Indian port city of Chennai in early January. Two
other ships, the Shen Quan Hai and Pindos also reported to be
carrying World Trade Center scrap have berthed and offloaded
their cargo in Chennai.
Indian state-owned metals trader PEC Ltd. imported 33,000
tons of steel scrap from New Jersey, including thousands of
tons of scrapped structural steel salvaged from the mangled
remains of the WTC. They will be selling the scrap to local
steel mills that will smelt and recycle them into Indian
buildings, according to Corporate Watch.
Similar shipments have reportedly reached China, where the
Baosteel Group purchased 50,000 tons. Malaysia and South Korea
are also reported to have received shipments.
Baosteel executives denied reports that it plans to make
souvenirs out of metal from the collapsed buildings. But
officials at Shanghai Baosteel said that the company did buy
scrap from the wreckage of the terrorist attack. The
Shanghai-based conglomerate plans to feed most of the debris
into a furnace to make new steel.
These sales are tainted however figuratively ... perhaps
According to Corporate Watch, more than 30,000 tons of the
Ground steel scrap is potentially contaminated with asbestos,
PCBs, cadmium, mercury, and dioxins.
In this case, however it is hard to accuse the U.S. of
double standards. At Ground Zero, thousands of rescue workers
and residents have been exposed to unknown but significant
levels of air contamination. Hundreds of New York firefighters
are filing to go on permanent disability, while serious
respiratory infections and other chronic health problems
afflict area residents.
A few days after the attacks, even President Bush stood on
the rubble without protective gear, rallying the citizenry,
too shocked and too busy to take proper precautions against
the toxic cloud that hung over Manhattan.
Contamination of steel is a common concern in the scrap
industry. As far as CorpWatch has been able to determine, U.S.
authorities have not studied the levels of contaminants in the
Trade Center scrap that was exported. If they have, the
information has not reached Indian authorities or port
Bob Kelman, Senior Vice President of Hugo Neu, after
winning the bid from the city to obtain tens of thousands of
recyclable tons of steel was quoted in The New York Times
in October 2001 as saying that "hopefully it (steel
salvage) will be made into a series of towers that are as
proud as the ones that came down!"
By February, his firm was shipping the steel overseas.
Admitting in a February interview on National Public Radio,
he indicated that his company did not disclose the origin of
the wreckage steel to Asian buyers as World Trade Center
scrap. His reasoning was based on his belief that the
Environmental Protection Agency has not found harmful levels
at Ground Zero and that steel is not an absorbing material
that assimilates liquid waste or carries with it excessive
amounts of dust.
This health issue will not be resolved for years, but
significant to note, insurance companies like American
International Group and Liberty Mutual have refused coverage
to the demolition contractors charged with the clean up at
On the home front, additional controversy looms.
In support of keeping the steel stateside, Metal Management
Northeast sold 500 tons of the scrap to the International
Agile Manufacturing foundry in Statesboro, Georgia that was to
produce the "Eyewitness World Trade Center Commemorative
Medallions" for a cool $180 million in sales (6 million
coins at $30 each).
Families of the victims protested in grief and horror
calling the practice ghoulish and disrespectful. Alan Ratner,
president of Metal Management indicated that all orders were
cancelled once he discovered the foundry's plans for the
To compensate for this lapse in judgement, Metal Management
has donated several pieces of wreckage to organizations
seeking to establish a WTC memorial. Less than half a mile
from its dock, two 8-foot I-beams form a replica of the towers
in an unfinished shrine at Stella Maris Seaman's Church.
Additionally, they have reserved a large chunk of concrete and
steel which their workers call "The Meteorite" that
contains three to four floors of a building compressed into a
5-by-7-ball. Marked "For PA" in chalk, it will one
day become part of a Port Authority Memorial in honor of the
While our steel circumnavigates the globe, ironically more
than 5,000 steelworkers and steel company executives are
expected to protest against imports - to urge Bush to impose
40 percent tariffs on steel imports. With a deadline imminent,
President Bush said he had not decided yet whether to restrict
steel imports to help struggling domestic firms get back on
And finally, the depths of condemnable behavior in the name
of commerce does not stop with the sale of scrap from Ground
Zero. eBay, the Internet's online auction site was asked by
New York City to pull all items from its Web site that try to
capitalize on a nefarious connection to the World Trade Center
attacks. Stating that the items were distasteful and morally
repugnant, Michael Cordozo, one of the city's top lawyers
wrote that a puzzle toy in which a child navigates "a
jumbo jet through the World Trade Center" was perhaps the
most reprehensible item.
With the recycling process taking on upwards of 18 months
according to projections from Hugo Neu, one could only hope
that the City of New York would be keeping some of the scrap
to build a memorial to those killed on September 11, 2001.
It is true that steel is the most recyclable product in the
world and that today's twin towers could become tomorrow's
kitchen sink — as crass as that might sound. It is also true
that steel has no memory.
However, we do. And as conscientious citizens of a global
marketplace, we need to weigh the price tag of our memories on
equal footing with potential international commerce.
Ron Callari is a freelance writer and editorial
cartoonist who resides in Jersey City, 100 yards from Hugo Neu
Schnitzer East, one of the largest scrap recyclers in the