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Ground Zero

The vicinity of the World Trade Center after the Tower explosions looked as though two huge bombs had exploded where the towers were. From the air, the site looked like an ash tray. Sixteen blocks formerly containing two of the world's ten tallest buildings was a smoking pile of fragments of steel structures and dust.

All seven buildings with a World Trade Center address were destroyed, the three skyscrapers having been reduced to short piles of rubble, and the four other buildings partly crushed by rubble from the towers, and ravaged by large fires.

Days after the attack, portions of the surface of the rubble pile were hot enough to melt aluminum. The intense heat persisted for months deep in the pile, which continued to emit toxic smoke into December.

False Assurances

In the months that residents of lower Manhattan and the Bronx breathed the smoke, the EPA issued a series of assurances that the smoke was not dangerous. In 2003 it was revealed that the EPA had no basis for those assurances, but had been pressured by the Bush administration. 1   One toxic component of the dust cloud that blanketed lower Manhattan and settled in the hidden recesses of buildings' ventilation systems was finely pulverized asbestos, which, in some places constituted 4 percent of the dust. 2   This is a public health time bomb, given the long incubation periods of lung diseases caused by asbestos.

Evidence Destruction

The operation to remove the remains of the World Trade Center moved at a rapid clip. After $200 million in gold was recovered from vaults under the WTC in late October (which was apparently only a fraction of the gold in the vaults before the attack), Mayor Giuliani curtailed access of FDNY workers to Ground Zero, and ramped up the pace of the operation. By the time that the only government study on the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings was published in May of 2002, the site had been scrubbed. The report, the World Trade Center Building Performance Study called for further "research, investigation, and analysis", but with the structural steel having been recycled through blast furnaces in India and China, any such future studies would not have the benefit of the primary evidence.

e x c e r p t
title: Chapter 1, of The World Trade Center Building Performance Study
authors: Therese McAllister, Jonathan Barnett, John Gross, Ronald Hamburger, Jon Magnusson
Figure 1-7 Schematic depiction of areas of collapse debris impact, based on aerial photographs and documented damage. Striped areas indicate predominant locations of exterior steel columns. Inner circles indicate approximate radius of exterior steel columns and other heavy debris. Outer circles indicate approximate radius of aluminum cladding and other lighter debris. Heavy Xs show where exterior steel columns were found outside the predominate debris areas.

Debris from the collapsing towers, some of it still on fire, rained down on surrounding buildings, causing structural damage and starting new fires (Figure 1-7). The sudden collapse of each tower sent out air pressure waves that spread dust clouds of building materials in all directions for many blocks. The density and pressure of the dust clouds were strong enough to carry light debris and lift or move small vehicles and break windows in adjacent buildings for several blocks around the WTC site.

Note that orange regions in the illustration indicate only the dispersal range of the metal parts of the towers. The fine dust that most of the non-metallic parts of the building were pulverized into covered several square miles, infiltrating the air circulation systems in nearby buildings.

Hidden in Plain Sight

The center of the financial district of Lower Manhattan was a smoking crater, with piles of short scraps of steel -- the shredded remains of the great towers' skeletons. Hundreds of windows were blown out in buildings hundreds of feet away, and cars at such distances were ignited. Fine dust, comprising the thoroughly pulverized non-metallic solids of the buildings, settled thousands of feet from the towers.

Is this where some buildings fell down, or is this where some buildings blew up?


1. White House edited EPA's 9/11 reports, seattlepi.com, 8/23/03
2. Asbestos Dust Poses Threat to Rescue Crews, Boston Globe, 9/14/01

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The block where the World Trade Center complex stood appeared "bombed out".