9/11 legacy builds an Indian dilemma

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 September, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 September, 2002, 12:00am

When the Indian Prime Minister stood at Ground Zero in New York for the ceremony to commemorate the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks, he might not have known that scrap metal from the debris of the World Trade Centre had made its way to India for recycling.

The collapse of the 110-storey twin towers created a pile of more than one million tonnes of rubble and twisted steel.

Nearly 20,000 tonnes of the steel has recently been shipped across the globe to Punjab's steel city of Mandi Gobindgarh, one of Asia's biggest smelting towns. Scrap from the concrete columns that supported the twin towers will be recycled to produce steel that will be used for building houses across northern India.

Dozens of privately-run steel furnaces are reprocessing the scrap into fresh steel ingots.

One factory owner, Manu Bansal, who received a substantial portion of the World Trade Centre scrap shipment, said that he and other steel merchants only realised its provenance some time after it reached their yards.

He said that he would refuse to buy any more scrap from the World Trade Centre because the memories of the attack and the suffering of the victims were 'far too disturbing'.

This year, a scrap merchant in the southern state of Tamil Nadu received more than 30,000 tonnes of rubble from Ground Zero. About a fifth of the rubble was discarded but the dealer said that the rest would be turned into steel, furniture and components in the manufacture of household items.

He said that the rubble was bought at an auction by New Jersey scrap processor Metal Management. Some was sold to a Dubai dealer and the rest sold to him for US$120 (HK$936) a tonne. The dealer said that wreckage from collapsed bridges, buildings and disasters was a common source of material for recycling in India.

'In the scrap trade, we don't attach importance to the source of our consignments,' he said.

Greenpeace objects to what it calls US dumping of steel that could be contaminated. It says that since everything in the World Trade Centre, from the mercury-containing tube lights, the asbestos insulation to computers, was incinerated, the steel scrap could be highly toxic.

'If the WTC debris were safe, why did American workers who cleared up the site wear full-body protection?' said Manu Gopalan of Greenpeace India.