Invisible Army

Ground zero in Manhattan is becoming a shrine dedicated to America's working men and women, not only those who perished there, but also to those laboring at the site. Naturally, firemen and policemen are in the spotlight, but lined up to perform another critical task are the members of America's invisible army of solid waste professionals.

Somehow, between the New York sanitation department and private contractors, the rubble — as much as 1.2 million tons — will be cleared and carted off to locations familiar with rubbish. But this is no ordinary kind of refuse.

This demolition debris arrived 100 years before its time, which makes it special … so special that some New Yorkers insist on landfilling it locally. This alone makes disposing of the Twin Towers unique in solid waste history.

Also unique is the amount of time it will take to clear this one site, as long as a year, according to New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani. Estimates of the task's size may change, but this job is unlike any faced by our industry before. For example, the Twin Towers alone housed 200,000 tons of steel, 425,000 cubic yards of concrete and 43,600 windows, according to one report. In the first few days following the attack, 9,000 tons were transported to the recently closed and quickly reopened Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island. And because the contents of each truck contained possible evidence of the crime, each load was inspected by federal agents prior to shipping, as well as inspected at its arrival site.

There have been negative implications for our industry, including a recent investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of all truck drivers transporting hazardous materials because hijackers implicated in the terrorist bombing secured licenses to transport this type of material. Furthermore, New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik has been quoted as saying that organized crime families may have stolen heavy structural girders from the site and sent them to two New Jersey recycling companies.

The details of this nightmare eventually will sort out, and I hope that those who have worked endlessly to remove the remnants of this terror will be recognized.

In the meantime, remember the simple eloquence of one member of the invisible solid waste army working at the site: “They may have hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, but they missed America.”

The author is the editorial director of Waste Age Publications.