Waste Industry, Others Help with Cleanup at World Trade Center Site

A job unlike any other, cleaning up the debris resulting from the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) has been an emotionally and physically taxing task. Thankfully, many people, including Congress and several in the waste industry, have volunteered their help.

Almost immediately, both Houses of Congress quickly passed legislation in September approving $40 billion in emergency aid, at least half of which was designated for disaster recovery in New York, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania.

Several organizations also responded. For example, National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) members volunteered to help, says David Biderman, general counsel for NSWMA, Washington, D.C. “We have had ongoing conversations with state and local officials regarding the final disposal sites for the debris, and we're prepared to offer our services in any way possible,” he says.

The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Md., also offered support to New York City. “We were contacted by both the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] and the U.S. Coast Guard,” says John Skinner, executive director and CEO. “They told us that both areas were being treated as crime scenes, and it appeared that the cleanup was under control with contractors that they have.”

Meantime, at the WASTECON 2001 Solid Waste Exhibition held in Baltimore on Oct. 16, SWANA held a session with experts such as William L. Rathje, a garbologist and landfill expert, plus other industry speakers to update attendees on disaster details and provide members with plans for better managing disaster debris in the future.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), Washington, D.C., also has been helping New York City officials ensure that all recyclable material removed from the WTC site is recycled through the proper channels, following numerous reports that organized crime families were stealing the metal for profit.

And to further assist with cleanup efforts, individual companies such as Marathon Equipment Co., Vernon, Ala.; Waste Management Inc., Houston; AB Volvo, Goteborg, Sweden; IESI Corp., Haltom City, Texas; and Michelin North America Inc., Greenville, S.C., have donated money and equipment.

FEMA, Washington, D.C., originally took charge of cleanup assessment and provided emergency services in the affected commercial, public and residential areas with more than 1,650 personnel. The agency committed more than $344 million to the response and recovery effort. But by Oct. 5, FEMA announced it would pull its forces out of New York City, stating that the recovery and debris removal process was under control by New York Department of Sanitation officials and private contractors.

FEMA has assigned a $125 million job to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to oversee cleanup and an $83 million job to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to aid in cleanup and monitor hazardous substances surrounding the 16-acre site.

Additionally, New York City has awarded contracts to two private scrap dealers to handle 50,000 tons of steel. Additional contracts are expected to be awarded to private scrap dealers for another 60,000 tons of structural steel, says George Wittich, senior vice president of Weeks Marine Inc., Cranford, N.J.

“As of Oct. 5, the final disposition of the remaining quantities [of steel] was still uncertain,” Wittich says. “Larger steel beams, as big as 30 tons, may be used for slurry wall stabilization.”

At New York City's request, USACE structural engineering teams have surveyed buildings and structures in the affected area to assure safety in search, rescue and debris-removal operations. USACE experts also continue to oversee cleanup efforts and contracts, and perform efficiency analyses to determine ways to streamline the debris removal and disposal process.

Most of the concrete from the WTC site was pulverized into dust in the Sept. 11 attacks. But huge amounts of structural steel remained scattered in tangled heaps, says Allen Morse, USACE chief debris expert and FEMA technical advisor.

“I saw I-beams stacked six stories high,” he says. “Steel could make up as much as half of the site's estimated 1.2 million tons of wreckage. Plans on how to move the machinery around this site are complex.”

As part of the cleanup plan, officials are moving debris to the recently closed Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island, N.Y., by both barge and truck. At press time, 120 pieces of equipment were handling debris at the WTC site, and 240 trucks and 70 barges were removing debris.

Fresh Kills has been reopened to host an intense Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and New York City Police investigation. At press time, officials stated that Fresh Kills would accept all WTC debris.

Because barges will be used, the Hudson and East Rivers are being dredged to make the four piers near the “Ground Zero” site available. Weeks Marine was still dredging as trucks began delivering steel for off-loading onto barges, some of which held up to 3,000 tons. According to Wittich, one barge load is equal to 150 truckloads.

Even with 63 Weeks Marine employees onsite and 24 hour per day operations, USACE has awarded a $790,500 emergency contract to Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co., Oak Brook, Ill., to deepen the Pier 6 site on the East River. At press time, three of the four piers were operational, with the fourth expected to become operational soon after.

Once at Fresh Kills, debris is investigated for evidence, as well as sorted for recycling using 145 pieces of sorting and moving equipment, officials say. Kathy Dawkins, New York Department of Sanitation spokeswoman, says that while the majority of the steel from the WTC site can be recycled, much of the material cannot. “Computer components, electronics and office furniture, for example, will likely remain at the landfill,” she says.

To speed debris-sorting operations, the USACE has been testing a conveyor system, which went online on Sept. 25. The EPA also is “writing a plan” to manage hazardous waste recovered onsite, including freon, fuel and biomedical waste, USACE's Morse says.

As management plans move into high-gear, project participants are not optimistic that the debris will disappear quickly, especially with winter coming.

Implosion consultant Controlled Demolition Inc. (CDI), Phoenix, Md., has reported that it could take up to 14 months to remove all of the debris. New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has estimated that cleanup could take up to one year.

Meanwhile, regular collection and disposal of New York waste and recyclables has continued on-schedule in the city's five boroughs, Dawkins says. To ensure waste does not pile up, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), at the request of New York State environmental officials, has extended emergency procedures and hours of operation at its landfills and incinerators to handle New York's waste through October.

At press time, the amount of debris taken to Fresh Kills totaled nearly 215,000 tons, or approximately 10,000 tons per day. Total estimated debris was 1.2 million tons, including 16,000 truckloads.

Total estimated cost for cleanup and rebuilding is $39 billion.