NFPA 921 – 19.2.4 – Exotic Accelerants

NATIONAL STANDARDS:

NFPA 921 – 19.2.4 – Exotic Accelerants.  Mixtures of fuels and Class 3 or Class 4 oxidizers may produce an exceedingly hot fire and may be used to start or accelerate a fire.  Thermite mixtures also produce exceedingly hot fires.  Such accelerants generally leave residues that may be visually or chemically identifiable.

 

Exotic accelerants have been hypothesized as having been used to start or accelerate some rapidly growing fires and were referred to in these particular instances as high temperature accelerants (HTA). Indicators of exotic accelerants include an exceedingly rapid rate of fire growth, brilliant flares (particularly at the start of the fire), and melted steel or concrete.  A study of 25 fires suspected of being associated with HTAs during the 1981-1991 period revealed that there was no conclusive scientific proof of the use of such HTA.

 

In any fire where the rate of fire growth is considered exceedingly rapid, other reasons for this should be considered in addition to the use of an accelerant, exotic or otherwise.  These reasons include ventilation, fire suppression tactics, and the type and configuration of the fuels.”

 

NIST INVESTIGATION:

According to NIST (the final authority on the cause of collapse) there wasn’t enough evidence to test for the residue of explosives:

14. Is it possible that thermite or thermate contributed to the collapse of WTC 7?

NIST has looked at the application and use of thermite and has determined that it was highly unlikely that it could have been used to sever columns in WTC 7 on Sept. 11, 2001.

Thermite is a combination of aluminum powder and a metal oxide that releases a tremendous amount of heat when ignited. It is typically used to weld railroad rails together by melting a small quantity of steel and pouring the melted steel into a form between the two rails. Thermate also contains sulfur and sometimes barium nitrate, both of which increase the compound’s thermal effect, create flame in burning, and significantly reduce the ignition temperature.

To apply thermite to a large steel column, approximately 0.13 lb. of thermite would be needed to heat and melt each pound of steel. For a steel column that weighs approximately 1,000 lbs. per foot, at least 100 lbs. of thermite would need to be placed around the column, ignited, and remain in contact with the vertical steel surface as the thermite reaction took place. This is for one column; presumably, more than one column would have been prepared with thermite, if this approach were to be used.

It is unlikely that 100 lbs. of thermite, or more, could have been carried into WTC 7 and placed around columns without being detected, either prior to Sept. 11, 2001, or during that day.

Given the fires that were observed that day, and the demonstrated structural response to the fires, NIST does not believe that thermite or thermate was used to fail any columns in WTC 7.

Analysis of the WTC steel for the elements in thermite/thermate would not necessarily have been conclusive. The metal compounds also would have been present in the construction materials making up the WTC buildings, and sulfur is present in the gypsum wallboard used for interior partitions.