2002-05-31 The Contribution Of Enviro Fanaticism

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The structural steel used in skyscrapers loses most of its strength when red hot. To provide thermal protection, buildings like the Empire State and others from that era enclosed the steel support columns in a couple of feet of concrete. This was effective but it added a lot of weight and cost, while also consuming a substantial amount of interior space. In 1948, Herbert Levine developed an inexpensive, lightweight, spray-on insulation composed of asbestos and rock wool, which played a key part in the postwar office-tower construction boom. Buildings using it would tolerate a major fire for 4 hours before structural failure, allowing time for evacuation below and airlift by helicopters from the roof for those trapped above.

By 1971, when the two WTC towers were being built, the country was being beset by various environmentalist scare campaigns, one of which was the demonization of asbestos – since shown to have been wildly exaggerated, with not a shred of evidence that insulating buildings with asbestos was harmful to human health. When the use of asbestos was banned, Levine's insulation had already been installed in the first 64 floors. The newer lightweight construction didn't permit traditional heavy concrete insulation for the remaining 54 floors, and so a nonasbestos substitute was jury-rigged to complete the buildings. On studying the arrangement, Levine said, "If a fire breaks out above the 64th floor, that building will fall down." He was right.

This post is problematic in several ways:

  • Cites Arthur B. Robinson, co-founder of the global warming denialist Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine
  • "Buildings using [asbestos] would tolerate a major fire for 4 hours before structural failure"... no steel-frame building has ever experienced structural failure due to fire (including those using the newer more environmental insulation) -- unless you count 9/11.
  • "not a shred of evidence that insulating buildings with asbestos was harmful to human health." Well, there's the "shred of evidence" that those mining and handling asbestos frequently come down with asbestos-related illnesses...
  • If the new insulation passed safety inspections without passing the same tests as the asbestos, why haven't the codes been changed to fix this? Why haven't those who allowed the lapse in safety standards been raked over the coals? Why does Hogan direct his ire at environmentalists (who saved lives by reducing exposure to asbestos) rather than at those who allowed the hypothetical lapse in safety standards?
  • Most analyses of the collapse (including both official and "conspiracy" versions) assume that critical insulation was stripped away by the impact -- so the insulation's composition is totally irrelevant.

This is nothing more than a hit-piece on environmentalism, exploiting the emotional impact of 9/11 to drive its baseless point home.

The Levine quote has been reported elsewhere: