Clearing the way for recovery at Ground Zero

The 9-11 role of the NYC Department of Sanitation

Martin J. Bellew
Director of the Bureau of Waste Disposal
New York City Department of Sanitation

First hours and days
Immediately after the World Trade Center buildings collapsed following the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, the New York City Department of Sanitation was called into action. Within 24 hours after the attack, some 1,500 sanitation workers had been dispatched and were already beginning the removal of debris. During the early hours, the material leaving Ground Zero was transported directly to the Fresh Kills Landfill by truck and/or tractor-trailer.

Simultaneously, the Department recognized that its existing infrastructure could be utilized. In particular, the Department's Marine Transfer Stations (MTS) at 59th Street in Manhattan and at Hamilton Avenue in the borough of Brooklyn could provide outlets for limited truck traffic from the site. These facilities were immediately made available and the first loads were received at 11:00 p.m. on September 11.

  Ground Zero operations

Organization of material removal
In addition to the Marine Transfer operations, trucks were utilized to directly bring material from Ground Zero to the Fresh Kills Landfill. The Department of Design and Construction contracted four companies to remove material from Ground Zero. They were Bovis Lend Lease Inc., Tully Construction Co., Turner Construction Co., and Amec Construction Management Inc. The site was divided into four quadrants and the companies were responsible for removing material from their assigned quadrant with assistance from the Department of Sanitation and the Department of Transportation.

Material being removed from the north quadrant would utilize the 59th Street MTS and the Fresh Kills Landfill. Material removed from the south side of the site would utilize the Hamilton Avenue MTS and the Fresh Kills Landfill. Material from the east and west quadrants would be diverted to the temporary MTS for efficiency. During this initial stage, all material was transported to the two MTS's or directly to the Fresh Kills Landfill. As time progressed, the operation evolved to make the removal and disposal of material more efficient. Specifically, the Department restricted certain types of material from being loaded on barges at the Marine Transfer Stations. On-road, conventional dump trucks and trailers still hauled mixed debris and structural members to a variety of MTS's, or directly to the landfill, but the types of material received at each station were now segregated by type. These changes greatly simplified the logistical problems associated with unloading these types of material at the Fresh Kills Landfill.

Temporary Marine Transfer Stations
In conjunction with the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management, the Department prepared permit applications for two transfer stations to be located at Pier 25 and Pier 6 in Manhattan. These sites were in close proximity to Ground Zero. These facilities provided an environmental benefit in reducing the amount of truck traffic that was leaving the site. By the end of October 2001, all material was removed through these sites.

Working in close cooperation with the Department of Design and Construction, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and other governmental agencies, the Department made provisions that steel removed from Ground Zero could be transported directly to metal recyclers from either Pier 6 or Pier 25. This reduced the amount of material that would be screened at the Fresh Kills Landfill.

Operations at the Fresh Kills Landfill
The disposal operations at the landfill were divided into two distinct operations: the unloading, stockpiling, separating and landfilling operations were under the direct control of the Department of Sanitation, and the sorting and investigative operations were under the direct control of the NYPD and the FBI.

Each load of material generated from Ground Zero was given a four-part disposal ticket for tracking purposes. A representative from the Army Corps of Engineers completed the required information at the loading site and indicated the disposal location for transport (for example, Pier 6, Pier 25, 59th MTS, Hamilton MTS, or the Fresh Kills Landfill). At the disposal location, two copies were given to the driver, one for the trucking firm and one for the contractor. The remaining copies were forwarded to the Department of Design and Construction for the reconciliation of loads.

Marine unloading
A total of 508 barges of material were loaded by the Department at the 59th Street and Hamilton Avenue MTS's, and another 1,423 barges were loaded by the city's contractor, Weeks Marine, at Pier 6 and Pier 25. The basic unloading operation used stationary cranes that were already in place at the Fresh Kills Landfill to unload the World Trade Center debris onto a concrete apron. Onsite, front-end loaders placed the material into large payhaulers, which then transported the material to the stockpiles at the top of the landfill.

  Stockpiling steel at Fresh Kills Landfill

Even as the materials were in transit, the Fresh Kills Landfill was being transformed for the screening and disposal of material. In the first days of the Fresh Kills operation, all loads delivered were stockpiled into two areas. There were 135 acres available for stockpiling. Large pieces of steel delivered by flatbed trucks were separated from the rest of the material. A metal vendor, Hugo Neu Schnitzer of New Jersey, removed the large steel beams and the small metal after it was screened and cleared by the regulatory agencies.

Vehicles that had been damaged as a result of the terrorist attack were delivered to the Fresh Kills Landfill. About 1,400 vehicles were recovered and carefully stockpiled in a separate area near the edge of the landfill. Some 300 of these recovered vehicles belonged to state, local and federal government agencies that were at the scene when the buildings collapsed. Almost all of the vehicles recovered were recycled with the exception of approximately 17 vehicles, which were sent to museums.

  Searching by hand at Fresh Kills Landfill

Screening operations
For smaller pieces of debris, the police and the FBI initially set up a manual screening operation of the stockpiled material. The material would be spread out by a front-end loader and the law enforcement agencies would look through the material for any human remains, identification, or personal items. This tedious and time-consuming process clearly had to be made more efficient. Nonetheless, hand-searching proved to be a valuable tool throughout the operation.

In a short period of time, additional screening equipment was delivered to the Fresh Kills Landfill in order to provide more capacity. As the operation proceeded into winter, shelters were erected to protect the searchers, who typically stood in the open atop the screens. At the peak of the operation, approximately 10,000 tons of material were delivered daily to the site. During the entire operation, over 55,000 pieces of evidence were recovered.

Infrastructure and environmental
In addition to the sanitation workers, employees from various agencies such as the FBI, NYPD, Port Authority Police, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Fire Department of New York (FDNY), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Corrections Dept., and Red Cross workers were provided with working space at Fresh Kills.

The Army Corps of Engineers contracted the firm of Phillips & Jordan to act as liaison to the various city, state and federal agencies. Phillips & Jordan procured the equipment required for the screening operations at the landfill. The firm of Evans Environmental under contract by Phillips & Jordan developed the Health and Safety Plan for the Fresh Kills Landfill. The plan contained extensive provisions for Site Control, Activity Hazard Analysis, Hazard Control Program, Respiratory Protection Program, and Communication & Accident Prevention. There were approximately 15,000 workers processed through the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Process. Evans Environmental identified exclusion zones at the landfill (i.e., barge unloading areas, screening areas) and the required PPE to enter these areas.

  Fresh Kills WTC disposal site today

Disposal of materials
In closing, approximately 200,000 tons of steel were recycled directly from Ground Zero to various metal recyclers. The Fresh Kills Landfill received approximately 1.4 million tons of WTC debris of which 200,000 tons of steel were recycled by a recycling vendor (Hugo Neu Schnitzer). The remaining material, approximately 1.2 million tons of WTC debris, was landfilled on the western side of Section 1/9 at the Fresh Kills Landfill in a 40-acre site.

The project had come up to speed quickly, processing from 1,750 tons per day of debris in mid-September to 17,500 tons per day by mid-October. Average throughput over the duration of the project was 4,900 tons of debris processed per day.

The last WTC debris was received at the Fresh Kills Landfill on July 29, 2002. On September 3, 2002 the project was completed.

Martin J. Bellew is the head of the Bureau of Waste Disposal and the Bureau of Solid Waste Engineering for the New York City Department of Sanitation. He has held this position for over four years. Director Bellew received a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from the University of South Alabama and played a pivotal role in the disposal of WTC debris. He can be reached at (646) 885-4684 or at