AREA MAN STIRS DEBATE ON WTC COLLAPSE — South Bend firm’s lab director fired after questioning federal probe.
By JOHN DOBBERSTEIN Tribune Staff Writer
SOUTH BEND — The laboratory director from a South Bend firm has been fired for attempting to cast doubt on the federal investigation into what caused the World Trade Center’s twin towers to collapse on Sept. 11, 2001.
Kevin R. Ryan was terminated Tuesday from his job at Environmental Health Laboratories Inc., a subsidiary of Underwriters Laboratories Inc., the consumer-product safety testing giant.
On Nov. 11, Ryan wrote a letter to the National Institute of Standards and Technology — the agency probing the collapse — challenging the common theory that burning jet fuel weakened the steel supports holding up the 110-story skyscrapers.
Underwriters Laboratories Inc., according to Ryan, “was the company that certified the steel components used in the construction of the WTC buildings.”
Ryan wrote that last year, while “requesting information,” UL’s chief executive officer and fire protection business manager disagreed about key issues surrounding the collapse, “except for one thing — that the samples we certified met all requirements.”
UL vehemently denied last week that it ever certified the materials.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology is conducting a $16 million, two-year investigation of the collapse of the twin towers. The agency expects to issue a draft report in January, and UL has played a limited role in the investigation.
Ryan wrote that the institute’s preliminary reports suggest the WTC’s supports were probably exposed to fires no hotter than 500 degrees — only half the 1,100-degree temperature needed to forge steel, Ryan said. That’s also much cooler, he wrote, than the 3,000 degrees needed to melt bare steel with no fire-proofing.
“This story just does not add up,” Ryan wrote in his e-mail to Frank Gayle, deputy chief of the institute’s metallurgy division, who is playing a prominent role in the agency investigation. “If steel from those buildings did soften or melt, I’m sure we can all agree that this was certainly not due to jet fuel fires of any kind, let alone the briefly burning fires in those towers.”
He added, “Alternatively, the contention that this steel did fail at temperatures around (500 degrees) suggests that the majority of deaths on 9/11 were due to a safety-related failure. That suggestion should be of great concern to my company.”
Ryan declined to comment about his letter Thursday when reached at his South Bend home.
But his allegations drew a sharp rebuke from UL, which said Ryan wrote the letter “without UL’s knowledge or authorization.” The company told The Tribune “there is no evidence” that any firm tested the materials used to build the towers.
“UL does not certify structural steel, such as the beams, columns and trusses used in World Trade Center,” said Paul M. Baker, the company’s spokesman.
Ryan was fired, Baker said, because he “expressed his own opinions as though they were institutional opinions and beliefs of UL.”
“The contents of the argument itself are spurious at best, and frankly, they’re just wrong,” Baker said.
Seeking to head off controversy just months before its report is released, the National Institute of Standards and Technology issued its own statement Thursday.
Some steel recovered from the WTC was exposed to fires of only 400 to 600 degrees, the institute said, but computer modeling has shown higher temperatures of 1,100 to 1,300 degrees or greater were “likely” experienced by steel in regions directly affected by the fires.
The institute believes impact from the jets dislodged fireproofing surrounding some of the steel, and the higher temperatures led to the buckling of the towers’ core columns.
Wrangling on the Web
Ryan’s statements have generated interest on many Web sites, including some advocating sharp scrutiny of the federal government’s WTC probe.
Ryan copied his e-mail to David Ray Griffin, author of “The New Pearl Harbor,” and to Catherine Austin Fitts, a board member of 911Truth.org — a Web site organized by citizens who believe the government is covering up the true cause of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
One day later, Griffin requested and received permission to distribute Ryan’s letter to other parties.
An official from 911Truth.org called Ryan to confirm his authorship. They said Ryan made it clear he is speaking for himself only, not on behalf of his laboratory or the company, but that others at UL were aware of his action.
The letter was published Nov. 11 on the Web site septembereleventh.org, site of the 9/11 Visibility Project. On Tuesday, organizers of the 911Truth.org Web site noted Ryan had been fired.
In his letter, Ryan appeared confident in his statements about the WTC’s fire protection levels.
“You may know that there are a number of current and former government employees that have risked a great deal to help us to know the truth,” he told the institute’s Gayle. “Please do what you can to quickly eliminate the confusion regarding the ability of jet fuel fires to soften or melt structural steel.”
UL moved immediately to discredit Ryan.
The company said Ryan “was not involved in that work and was not associated in any way with UL’s Fire Protection Division, which conducted testing at NIST’s request.”
The company said it “fully supports NIST’s ongoing efforts to investigate the WTC tragedy. We regret any confusion that Mr. Ryan’s letter has caused 9/11 survivors, victims’ families and their friends.”
“We prefer to base our conclusions, and NIST would say the same, on science rather than speculation,” Baker said. “We anxiously await the outcome of the NIST investigation.”
Organizers of 911Truth.org came to Ryan’s defense Thursday, although they couldn’t persuade him to speak publicly.
“He just saw too many contradictions, and it set off his sense of what was the right thing to do,” said David Kubiak, 911Truth.org’s executive director. “It’s unfortunate for the country, and it’s particularly tragic for him, but [his action is] inspiring as hell.”
“The way things are working in the country right now,” Kubiak added, “it’s only going to be citizens like this who take their professional knowledge and sense of personal integrity, and put it ahead of the strange status quo, that we will see truth and justice out of the system.”
Staff writer John Dobberstein: firstname.lastname@example.org (574) 235-6187