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9/11 UPDATE
GROUND ZERO FOR SALE
Dust will settle ... elsewhere
Ron Callari

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 ... doing business!

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 soup cans!

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 recyclers?

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 literally.

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 workers.

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 Ground Zero.

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 material.

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 lives taken.

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 their feet.

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 nation.


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