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Background Attack Aftermath Evidence Misinformation Analysis Memorial

Asbestos in the WTC

Towers' Destruction 'Solved' Asbestos Problem

The Twin Towers had large amounts of asbestos fireproofing which would have necessitated costly removal had they remained standing. The exact amount and distribution of the asbestos in the Towers remains unclear, like other details of the buildings' construction and history, but the evidence suggests that the cost of its removal may have rivaled the value of the buildings themselves.


Evidence of Asbestos

Two independent lines of evidence may help to establish the magnitude of the asbestos problem in the Twin Towers: analysis of samples of the dust from the Towers' collapses, and reports about the application and removal of asbestos in the buildings prior to their destruction.

A region of several square miles was blanketed by fine powder resulting from the explosive collapses of the Twin Towers. This powder, consisting of the pulverized remains of non-metallic components and contents of the Towers, contained significant percentages of asbestos. 1   An analysis of dust within three days of the attack found that some of the dust was four percent asbestos. 2   This asbestos release may be a public health time bomb, because thousands of people breathed dust from the collapses. It remains to be seen how many if them will become victims of the EPA's false assurances that the air was safe to breathe.

A report by the Arnold & Porter law firm provides some details on the asbestos application and removal.

The WTC Towers were built from 1968 to 1972. A slurry mixture of asbestos and cement was sprayed on as fireproofing material. But this practice was banned by the New York City Council in 1971. This halted the spraying, but not before hundreds of tons of the material had been applied. Some but not all of it was later removed in an abatement program.

While providing no quantitative data beyond that there were "hundreds of tons" of the asbestos-containing material, we note that the ban went into effect near the end of the Towers' construction, so we can assume that asbestos covered the steel skeletons through most of the height of each of the Towers.


The High Cost of Asbestos Abatement

Asbestos is a mineral, airborne fibers of which can cause severe and untreatable respiratory disease, with typical latencies of several decades. The recognition of the toxicity of asbestos has led to legislation for its survey and removal from structures. The removal is expensive because the removal operation must be quarantined and subject to rigorous decontamination procedures. Removal of asbestos used as structural fireproofing in steel framed high-rises is complicated by the fact that the fireproofing covers an intricate lattice of steel in the most difficult-to-access places.

Some sense of the cost of removing the asbestos from the Twin Towers can be obtained by the example of 55 Broad Street. The removal of asbestos in that building cost $70 million when it was empty. That was five times the cost of the building's construction 15 years before. 3  

Another example is the 60-story Montparnasse Tower in Paris. Experts estimate that the removal of asbestos from this building would take three years with full evacuation, and ten years if the building were to remain occupied during the operation. 4  

According to Eric Darton's 1999 book on the Twin Towers, the Port Authority had planned to pump $800,000 into the Twin Towers for a variety of improvements, the most costly of which was asbestos abatement (not removal). 5  


1. Is Ground Zero Safe? New study suggests more asbestos at disaster site than previously revealed, MSNBC News, 10/5/01 [cached]
2. Asbestos Dust Poses Threat to Rescue Crews, Boston Globe, 9/14/01 [cached]
3. Divided We Stand, Basic Books, 1999, page 208
4. Only skyscraper in Paris, popular with tourists, has dangerous asbestos levels, AP, 3/14/05 [cached]
5. Divided We Stand, Basic Books, 1999, page 212

page last modified: 2013-03-21