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  • David is a Deputy News Editor specializing in coverage of science policy, energy and the environment.
 

Engineers Push New Study of Twin Towers' Collapse

7 March 2002 (All day)
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Toppled towers. Engineers told Congress it will take several years and $40 million to fully understand the towers' collapse.

Researchers are calling for a major study of why the World Trade Center buildings collapsed after the 11 September terrorist attacks. Engineers yesterday told a congressional committee that it will take several years and at least $40 million to fully understand what toppled the twin towers and how other skyscrapers might be made safer. Lawmakers have asked the White House to quickly fund the study, which would be led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Engineers and materials scientists began studying the collapse of New York City's 415-meter-tall landmarks even before the dust settled. But their investigations have been hampered by bureaucratic infighting, legal concerns, and lack of timely access to the site, witnesses told the House Science Committee. It took months, for instance, for researchers to obtain key blueprints, video footage, and samples from scrap steel beams, said W. Gene Corley, head of a government-sponsored study team organized by the American Society of Civil Engineers. To get the plans, Corley even had to sign an agreement not to testify in potential lawsuits against the building's owners, the Port Authority of New York. Despite such travails, Corley's panel is set to issue its preliminary report next month. The $1 million effort is expected to conclude that jet fuel from the hijacked airliners ignited fires that weakened steel beams, allowing upper floors to pancake onto those below.

But Corley said it will take at least $40 million to "fully fund a comprehensive study of an event of this magnitude and complexity." Researchers want to better understand how the tower's design influenced the fires and whether different kinds of steel or sprinkler systems might have reduced the damage.

NIST head Arden Dement said his agency--the government's expert on fire safety and building materials--is already planning the new study, which would involve government, industry, and academic scientists. Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), head of the Science Committee, has asked the White House to find funds this year to jumpstart the effort. Bush Administration officials have yet to respond, although they have approved the concept of such a study.

Related links
House Science Committee site with links to testimony
Webcast (replay) of hearing
American Society of Civil Engineers

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