I think of this as the day I made a grown man cry. It’s sort of a continuation of this post.

In the 90s while I was working for PSI/Bain/Romney *, we were doing a large asbestos removal project, the largest one that had yet been attempted in the building. Morgan Stanley, a large tenant at 1251 Avenue of the Americas, had vacated the majority of its floors, their leases had expired and they moved mostly to a building not far away on Broadway.

Whenever a lease expired, that was when we would do the turnaround, remove the asbestos containing fireproofing (and floor tile, etc. if any) and replace it with non-ACM spray on fireproofing. Both the material removed and installed were the products of W. R. Grace, a Canadian company (that being where most of the asbestos mines are located in North America).

In the middle of this huge project, the contractor tried to get us to approve using less material for replacement. Their excuse was that we had over-specified the requirements. We said no.

They continued to push. Now, in those days, I could be a bit…rash. My boss said on occasion I annoyed him by “thinking too fast,” If we were group-reviewing a document, I’d be making comments about the bottom of page two while the group was still on the first or second paragraph. This practice was both a boon and a curse. Sometimes it paid off, not getting caught off guard, other times it made for errors out of haste.

The other part, the point, I frequently spoke without thinking ahead of time.

The contractor sent a W. R. Grace representative to see the assistant project manager. He asked me to join them. I had sort of become the person in the office who used the orange UL book to specifically tailor the specifications for each project. The steel members on a particular floor frequently differed from the floors above and below for various reasons (proximity to mechanical floors, height within the building—if higher, less weight exists above to support, etc.).

What the man was really trying to do, without saying so, was to change our design, our assembly (that’s what they call various groups of UL tested combinations of steel and fireproofing, assemblies…I don’t recall which ours was for the deck/ceiling/floor but it had a letter/number combination). In essence, he was trying to prove that, to make it simple, two inches of thickness was as good as four. (The actual numbers varied depending on where).

That was what I kept pointing out. The man got so frustrated, he choked and teared up. Wasn’t my intention, I was just trying to understand how it could be possible that half would protect for four hours as well as full.

The meeting ended. We weren’t sure where we were except that we were not going to accept a change without something more official that we could all understand.

I looked at the UL book. Their lab was on Long Island. Well, why not call them?

I did. I spoke to an engineer who told me in no uncertain terms that what we had been told was wrong. Absolute crap.

We told the contractor. Two days later, the UL engineer called me back.

“I was wrong.”

There was a pause as I tried to figure out what to do.

I grabbed the book.

“Okay, on page—”

“No. You don’t understand. I was wrong. Just wrong.”

Another pause.

“I see. Thanks.”

I then looked up some information on the web. The tests are paid for by W.R. Grace and the other manufacturers. In essence, they keep the UL fireproofing labs open.

We decided to not allow the substitution anyway. This phone call was among the creepiest things we experienced (but there was worse…the same asbestos contractor once paged me and, after complimenting me on calling him back faster than his own people would, proceeded to vent a lot of drunken anger due to this or another thing I was involved in and ended it with, “Stay out of the Village tonight.” These kinds of things became so frequent that they lost their effectiveness quickly).

But it was still weeks before we discovered what the real problem was. The City was busy, especially the World Trade Center. There was not only a shortage of spray machinery, but of experienced sprayers and material. W.R. Grace was not able to keep up with the demand and tried to therefore reduce the demand to compensate.

I had long wondered if this wasn’t a factor in the collapse. Our building was known to be among the harshest, most demanding when it came to getting the reality to match the specifications, following regulations, etc. The NYCDEP visited us a lot, which made us a little paranoid until we found out it was to teach their inspectors what a correct job was supposed to look like.

But then I read this this morning. I don’t know what it means exactly. The WTC was the tallest building in the US at one time and it’s been published rumorlike that there was some serious NSA, CIA, etc. communications in the basement. Seems to me, if the building is breached, blowing that stuff up so it can’t be found would be on the list of things to do.

But I might be engaging in wishful thinking. It’s also been rumored that the people who worked in that basement, with one or two exceptions, did not show up for work that morning.

And, again, see Operation Northwoods for what appears to be the architectural plans for faking a terror attack on US soil for the purposes of invading elsewhere.

It’s hard to swallow, I know. I didn’t want to believe it. I don’t much believe it’s this easy to contain something like that. But then I look at the age of voice-to-skull and wonder how they have kept that so secret for so long (and the best answer would seem to be the technology itself).

* I am reminded that this was probably before the buyout by Bain.


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