Steel type in WTC met standards, group says
Lack of progress in R.I. club fire frustrates prober
By Devlin Barrett, Associated Press, 8/28/2003
GAITHERSBURG, Md. — Early tests on steel beams from the World Trade Center show they generally met or were stronger than design requirements, ruling them out as a contributing cause of the collapse of the towers, federal investigators said yesterday. Engineers with the National Institute of Standards and Technology have conducted preliminary tests on some of the 236 pieces of steel from the wreckage, said Frank Gayle, who is leading the board’s review of the steel.
The tests found that, typical for construction steel used in the 1960s when the World Trade Center was erected, the steel beams exceeded requirements to bear 36,000 pounds per square inch. Often they were capable of bearing around 42,000 pounds per square inch.
A group of victims’ families, the Skyscraper Safety Campaign, had complained that most of the beams from the site were quickly shipped off and reprocessed into new steel before they could be tested. The institute’s lead investigator, Shyam Sunder, cautioned the results were preliminary but said if those findings continue in further testing, that would rule out weak steel as a contributing factor in the collapse.
The steel testing was discussed yesterday at the end of a two-day meeting with institute officials about the Sept. 11 investigation.
The two-year probe is designed to create a model of the fire and collapse, enabling the institute, which is part of the Commerce Department, to recommend improved fire and safety codes in building construction.
The Skyscraper Safety Campaign’s Sally Regenhard, whose firefighter son was killed at the site, said she doubted the institute’s findings.
"I don’t really feel that they have a representative sample of all the steel," Regenhard said.
James Quintieri, a professor at the University of Maryland who is consulting with the Skyscraper Safety Campaign, said key questions, about the steel’s strength under intense heat and the overall design of the building, remain unanswered.
In coming months, the federal institute will re-create sections of the building’s floor trusses and conduct large-scale fire endurance tests to determine how the floors of the towers responded to the twin stresses of impact by a jet plane and a continuing fire.
The institute also discussed its investigation of the nightclub fire in West Warwick, R.I., in February, which killed 100 people. Investigators will also use the results of this investigation to recommend improvements to codes.
At the meeting, some complained investigators were being delayed by prosecutors and civil lawyers denying them access to critical information, including the exact makeup of the soundproofing foam that burst into flames at the nightclub.
The blaze was sparked by a band’s pyrotechnic display, and nearly 200 people were injured as the fire roared through the wooden structure.
Lead investigator Bill Grosshandler said his team has to date gathered only about 20 percent of the information on the makeup of different materials in the building, but he said it was still early in the fact-gathering process. The institute is creating a computer reconstruction of the fire to simulate the spread of flames and smoke through the club.
Others, including the institute’s Jack Snell, seemed frustrated with the agency’s access to information. The investigation is proceeding under an act of Congress passed last year aimed to use the institute’s expertise to probe building disasters.
"The whole motivation for this law was timely investigations," Snell said. "We’re not doing timely investigations."