Q&A with Gregory A. Butler, author of "LOST TOWERS . . . inside the World Trade Center cleanup"
In late May and early June of 2007, I conducted an online interview of Gregory A. Butler author of "LOST TOWERS . . . inside the World Trade Center cleanup". Being that I'm a 9/11 truth activist and I presume Mr. Butler is not, I tried my best to remain as neutral and objective with my questions as possible. I hope I did a good job.
This Q&A was reprinted with the express permission of Gregory A. Butler.
To your knowledge, was "the pit" referred to in your book also called "the pile" or the "WTC pile"?
Apparently, FDNY firefighters and other uniformed officers tended to refer to it as "the pile", while civilian construction workers called it "the pit"
Do you still keep in contact with any of the WTC first responders and/or clean-up crew that are sick from exposure to the WTC dust?
I really haven't kept in close touch with any of the workers who got sick down there - but it has been a big news story here, which I have followed in the press.
Have any of the victims exposed to the WTC dust that you know about been given a fair shake in terms of hospital treatment or insurance benefits? If so, why do you suppose they are the exception and not the rule?
To my knowledge, the City and State have been really stingy about paying out benefits to World Trade Center workers, the only exception I can think of is Deputy Mayor Rudy Washington, the highest ranking city official there. He got WTC cough, and, since he was a high city official as well as a wealthy contractor, he got taken care of.
If you do not mind telling me, have you suffered any debilitating effects from exposure to the WTC dust? If so, to what degree?
I was in the American Express Tower, which was a relatively clean area of the Ground Zero Security Zone, on the outer perimiter of the pit, at the very end of the job, when most of the toxic material had been cleaned up. Consequently, to date, I have not suffered any ill effects.
Is there anyone of whom you know that has been exposed to the WTC dust for extended periods of time and suffered no ill effects? If so, what do you think accounts for this?
A very high proportion of the workers who spent a lot of time in the pit have gotten sick - there were probably people who didn't get sick, but at this time I don't have any hard numbers on that, or any anecdotal accounts.
The 2 nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Christine Todd Whitman (whom you mention briefly in your book) and other EPA officials cannot be held liable for giving false assurances about the air quality of lower Manhattan in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Do you agree with this ruling? Why or why not?
I'm sure that, as far as the technicalities of federal law are concerned, Whitman and her collegues at EPA are exempt from any criminal or civil liability. Morally speaking, they're guilty as sin, but morality and legality are two different things.
During the WTC clean-up, as you and others have reported, the structural steel was immediately shipped out across seas for recycling. Apart from the reasons you state in your book why you think this was wrong (it limited finding better ways to make new buildings safer), are you suspicious that a crime scene was being deliberately destroyed to cover-up possible evidence of domestic negligence and/or malfeasance? Why or why not?
The steel was hauled out quickly to enable Larry Silverstein to begin rebuilding the site as quickly as possible, for crassly financial reasons. As far as the destruction of the steel, that was pure commercial avarice and greed on the part of the scrap dealers who hauled the material out - after all, they make their money by buying and selling steel scrap, not by having it sit around their transfer stations for months and years on end while an investigation progresses. As far as the City of New York was concerned, the cheapest way to deal with the debris was to have the scrap dealers sell it, rather than storing it at the Department of Sanitation's Fresh Kills landfill indefinitely.
There were reports in quite a few other publications covering 9/11 issues of molten metal and/or steel found in the basements of WTC 1, 2, & 7. Some firefighters and other first responder/clean-up personnel describe it as looking "like a foundry" or "molten lava". Were you witness to any such molten metal or have you heard from anyone who actually saw it? (You should know that these reports about "molten metal" have almost become legendary in their own right.)
The folks who have repeated those reports have a very limited understanding of metalurgy. The WTC towers were exposed to extreme heat from a JP 4 kerosene jet fuel fire - the initial structure fire in the towers lasted about 2 hours (from jet impact to building collapse), the subsequent subterranean fire in the rubble went on for about 3 months. Not suprisingly, some of the architectural metal components of the building (that is, the aluminum in the window frames, and other decorative metal work on the occupied floors) melted due to extended exposure to extreme heat.
Could you please describe the method applied by the clean-up crew (and anyone else for that matter) to cutting and disassembling the WTC steel? In other words, how was it technically accomplished? Were the cuts made straight up and down and across in a vertical and horizontal fashion or were they cut in angles? And if any, what kinds of other instruments besides acetylene torches were used for such cuts? Was there any slag formation at the cutting point? If so, what did it look like (what color was it)? Do you have any recorded evidence of how the steel was cut such as pictures and/or video footage?
Basically, acytelene torches were used to cut the steel up into pieces small enough to be hauled off by the loaders, backhoes and power shovels, and then loaded on the back of the trucks. For time reasons, the metal was cut up in pieces that were as large as possible (in other words, big enough to be lifted by the machines and put on the trucks). I'm not an ironworker, and, although I do have a burning license, I did not directly work with the burning gangs in the pit, so that's as much as I know about how they cut the metal up so it could be hauled out.
Are there any pictures from your personal photo library either available online or that you can send me of some of your days at the clean-up?
I didn't bring a camera to that job - one, because I usually don't bring cameras to jobsites, two, in this specificl case because, considering the site was basically an open gravesite, I felt it would be kinda disrepectful to the unburied dead folks (and, in the case of the murdered firemen, their relatives who were in the pit looking for them)
Is it true that while in the pit no one outside of the first responder and clean-up crew personnel was allowed to take photographs and/or record video footage? To the best of your knowledge, why or why not?
In the early days, it was really catch as catch can. There were TV crews in the pit, and there was at least one professional photographer who went in the site posing as a volunteer so he could take and sell pictures of the site. After the first week, it was a regular jobsite, and the only folks who were supposed to be taking pictures were law enforcement, government and contractor representatives. The Department of Design and Construction of the City of New York (the lead agency coordinating the demolition after the first week) hired a professional photographer as the official site photographer as well.
You state in your book that many of the buildings that were contaminated with WTC dust (such as the Deutsche Bank) have not been taken down for fear of further polluting other populated areas of New York. Are such buildings still standing? If so, what do you believe will eventually be done with them?
To date, Fitterman Hall is still standing, in pretty much the same state of delapidation it was after the streets around it were cleared of debris. As for Deutsche Bank, it's currently in the process of being demoed - in a very reckless manner that's already sent 3 laborers to the hospital and sent debris rocketing down to the street. This kind of recklessness is common in the New York demolition industry (on both the union and non union sides) - since this is the largest building to be demoed in the history of the world, that normal demolition contractor carelessness is magnified.
Are there any more locations in New York that carry relatively undisturbed and uncontaminated samples of WTC dust for examination by specialists? If so, do you know where to find such samples?
Probably the only spot in the city where there's undisturbed WTC dust is in a narrow alley next to 90 West Street (I mean REALLY narrow - literally about 2 feet wide at it's widest point) that was not cleaned because the contractors couldn't find anybody who could fit in the hole to clean it out.
Rudy Giuliani is running for president. Do you feel his performance on 9/11 should qualify or disqualify him for such a position?
I think Rudy Giuliani is a racist repressive demagogue, the worst mayor in our city's history and an arch reactionary. That's why I would not vote for him EVER. As for 9/11, he was holding press conferences while there were still live victims in the ruins - that tells you what his priorities are.
Larry Silverstein recently won the last of his insurance claim for the destruction of the WTC that he insured six weeks before 9/11. Do you feel he deserved the money? Why or why not?
If you owned a $ 20,000 car, and it got hit by another car, and then while you were waiting for the cops and the tow truck to come a third car hit your vehicle, you would NOT be entitled to $ 40,000 from the insurance company - and if you tried to claim it, you would go to prison for fraud and do felony time. The same rule should apply here - if the buildings were insured for $ 3.3 billion, he should not get $ 6.6 billion, even if 20 planes hit the towers!!!!
There is a widespread suspicion in certain circles that the collapse of WTC 7 was a domestic case of arson and insurance fraud. Do you feel there is any credibility to such claims? Why or why not?
There is no way that you can organize the demolition of a 40 story building in 10 hours - ESPECIALLY if the site is ON FIRE, surrounded by toxic dust and the entrances are filled with debris. It would take 200 blasters, laborers, electricians and operating engineers about a month to blow a building like that. Also, it is illegal to do explosive demolition in this city, and has been for over a century. All demo jobs here are done by hand, with torches, sledgehammers, sawzalls and crowbars (that's how they're demoing Deutsche Bank). Basically, Seven World Trade Center caught fire, burned for 10 hours, the steel failed due to the heat, and it fell.
As the collapse of the twin towers was totally unprecedented and initially considered unusual, and as a precautionary measure in the interest of complete safety -- before first responders and other emergency personnel were allowed into the pit -- were bomb-sniffing dogs used to ensure that there were no possible incendiaries to be found in the WTC rubble pile? To the best of your knowledge, why or why not?
They used cadaver dogs to find survivors - and after Genelle Guzman was rescued on day three, to find dead bodies - but nobody used bomb sniffing dogs. it was chaos that first couple of days - nobody thought to check the rubble for bombs.
How is Genelle Guzman doing? Has her life and that of her baby turned out well after 9/11?
Reportedly, she's made a full recovery (at least physically) and her and her kids are OK. Ms Guzman basically went back into obscurity after her release from the hospital (which, considering the hell she went through, was probably the best thing, for her mental health). Since she only spent three days there, and didn't go back to the site after she was hospitalized, she hasn't suffered any ill effects from the toxic dust.
Michael Moore's documentary "Sicko" has a scene wherein he takes to Cuba for medical treatment the 9/11 first responders suffering from various diseases caused by their exposure to toxic WTC dust. Do you know any of these first responders personally? If so, as people what are they like?
I don't personally know any of the folks that Moore took to Cuba for medical treatment. I do wish them well - and it does say volumes about our medical system that they had to go to a Third World country to get proper care!!!!
Rosie O'Donnell, before her unfortunate (in my opinion) departure from The View had a show hosting the 9/11 first responders. Do you think she has been treated unfairly in the media for her views on 9/11? Why or why not?
Rosie O'Donnell is something of a polarizing figure - not so much because of 9/11, but due to her being an open lesbian in an industry where most gays and lesbians stay deep in the closet. That's probaby why she gets so much heat in the media.
According to other reports that I have read, most everything within the WTC pile was composed of steel beams and mostly pulverized material. Apparently, there were practically no large pieces of furniture and/or office materials – just mostly dust. In your experience, is this true? If so, what do you think accounts for this phenomenon?
There was a ferocious fire, and then a tremendous building collapse, and then another long slow fire once the towers fell. The steel survived because it's a very hard substance. Everything else either got crushed, or burned into ash. Remember, this was the biggest building collapse in the history of the world - there was a lot of weight hitting a very small area in a very short period of time.
Considering that, as you document in your book, in order to locate victims of 9/11 buried in the pit one had to use one's olfactory senses, do you feel that even if high quality respirators had been available to the 9/11 first responders and clean-up crew, that they would have declined to use them?
It's hard to do heavy phisical work in a conventional respirator. Within an hour or two, the filters start to smell like body waste, due to your exhaled breath and sweat clogging the pores in the filter, and it's very unplesant to continue working with the mask on (that's why very few construction workers wear masks, except under extreme circumstances). Scuba gear or battery assisted respirators would eliminate that problem - but oxygen tanks and batteries cost money, and construction workers lives are cheaper than air tanks or batteries. That's why they didn't have proper respirators on site.
Do you feel that if Gore had been President during 9/11 that New York would have been better off? Why or why not?
Probably wouldn't have made a difference - he would have attacked Afganistan too, but he probably would have done it with American air power and infantry from third countries, so there wouldn't be any body bags coming home (the same way Clinton fought the wars in Kosovo and Rwanda - remember those? - nobody does, because no Americans died there!) Bottom line, as long as American companies own Saudi Arabian oil, we will have a problem with Saudi Arabian extremists.
It has been reported many times in the media that Controlled Demolition, Inc. was responsible for the World Trade Center clean-up yet you do not mention them once in your book. In your experience, has their influence over the WTC clean-up been overstated? Why or why not?
I've never heard of Controlled Demolition, Inc. To my knowledge, Turner, Tully, AMEC and Bovis Lend Lease ran the cleanup job. They may have had a sub called Controlled Demolition, but if so they were a minor player on the site - because I have not seen one reference to them in the New York papers.
As described in your book, the FDNY clearly was against the "scoop and dump" method used by Giuliani to recover the gold and silver from the Bank of Nova Scotia -- and to this day, they continue to hold disdain for him. Do you feel that Giuliani has been treated unfairly over this issue? Why or why not?
The FDNY as an agency supported Giuliani - the rank and file firefighters, fire lieutenants and fire captains in the pit opposed Giuliani with a passion - and rightfully so, since the quick and dirty methods that were used in the pit led to a lot of human remains ending up in a landfill instead of getting a decent burial. Since a lot of those dumped human remains belonged to firefighters, and many of the firefighters in the pit were related by blood or marriage to the firefighters that were murdered, they took it VERY PERSONALLY - and rightfully so!!!
Did Winston Thomlinson's family ever receive any measure of compensation for his death?
All they got a few dollars that carpenters union shop stewards collected on the jobsites, and whatever paltry settlement they got from workers comp - they never got a penny from the union, other than a payout on the contributions that had been paid into his annuity fund during his short career as a union carpenter.
Did the WBC ever cut Joe Picurro his check?
He did get a settlement, but last I heard it's still tied up in some WCB red tape.
How are John Sferazo, Winston Lodge, Joseph Libretti, Tarnisa Moore, Fady Mitchell, Deputy Mayor Rudy Washington and all the rest of the victims of the WTC dust doing? Are any of them receiving the health benefits that they need?
Fady Mitchell (who, for the record, happens to be my cousin) is OK - she was reassigned to a city office in Queens, just a 10 minute bus ride from her home. She didn't suffer any medical ill effects from her experience. Rudy Washington is getting taken care of - after all, he was a Deputy Mayor for 8 years, and a well connected city contractor before that. As for Sferazo, Lodge, Libretti and Moore, their cases are still pending, but they may soon get a payout, thanks to the lawsuit.
After the Hurricane Katrina disaster, many residents of New Orleans left to relocate themselves elsewhere. To the best of your knowledge, where did many of the residents of Ground Zero go for shelter after 9/11? Did they leave New York?
The area immediately around Ground Zero is largely commercial, very few people live there. There are a few very wealthy folks who live in luxury apartments in the area - mainly in Battery Park City, a large luxury housing development that was built in the 1980's across the street from the WTC - some of them have moved, others have stayed, and are actively seeking compensation. There is a very large working class neighborhood called Chinatown that's about a 10 minute walk east of Ground Zero. There has been some displacement there since the bombing, but it's mainly due to working class families being pushed out by rising rents and the closing of the last few garment factories in the neighborhood.
Do you have any plans to write another book on 9/11 anytime in the near or far future?
Not at the moment - but that might change.