Steven E. Jones' Thermite / Thermate claims

A commonly repeated 9/11 conspiracy theory is that an incendiary, thermite or thermate, rather than an explosive, was used to cut the huge steel columns, causing the WTC buildings to collapse. Steven E. Jones, a (former) physicist at Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City, and (former) co-chair of the 9/11 conspiracy-promoting “Scholars for 9/11 Truth,” and now founder of "Scholars for 9/11 Truth and Justice," is the chief proponent of this theory.

In his paper “Why Indeed Did the WTC Buildings Collapse?” (revised several times) Jones shows a startling propensity for abandoning the scientific method in favor of jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions. As with his “evidence” that Jesus Christ visited the Americas (a Mormon tenet), in his 9/11 work Jones promotes faith over intellectual rigor.

Jones claims to have found traces of thermate (thermite with a small amount of sulfur and a large amount of barium nitrate added) on a piece of steel from the WTC. This claim is unsubstantiated. First, Jones does not cite the chemical composition of actual spent thermate signatures, for comparison. Second, Jones has not provided a chain of custody for the steel he tested that would preclude its contamination by other sources. Third, and most importantly, there is nothing unexpected about finding sulfur and trace metals on WTC steel and dust samples.

Sulfur-based drywall was the third most-used construction material at the WTC. Thousands of gallons of fuel oil containing sulfur was spilled beneath the rubble piles, along with numerous other sulfur-containing inflammables. Thermate typically contains only 2% sulfur, so if the sulfur Jones detected was from ther-mate, we would expect to see the reaction byproducts of its main ingredients, iron oxide, aluminum, and barium nitrate, in proportionally greater amounts. The qualitative chemical analyses performed on sulfidated steel from WTC 7, 1, and 2 shows no signs of the presence of the incendiaries Jones says were used, nor did it reach anywhere near its melting point.

Chemist Frank Greening makes a strong argument that sulfur in its gaseous state would best have been able to combine with the steel to produce the sulfidated effects, and that such sulfur probably would have been abundant in the witch's brew of burning chemicals in the piles at Ground Zero. For more information on this sulfur/steel issue, see http://www.fema.gov/pdf/library/fema403_apc.pdf and http://www.wpi.edu/News/Transformations/2002Spring/steel.html

In this rambling defense of his theories, Jones cites an EPA report by Erik Swartz as evidence of the presence of thermite at the WTC: “Large amounts of 1,3 diphenylpropane strongly suggests the high-tech thermite arson used on the WTC buildings...” (bolding mine).

Swartz’s EPA report says nothing of the kind:
One molecule, described by the EPA's Erik Swartz, was present at levels "that dwarfed all others": 1,3-diphenylpropane. "We've never observed it in any sampling we've ever done," Swartz said. He said it was most likely produced by the plastic of tens of thousands of burning computers.http://tinyurl.com/rp7xg

In the report abstract, Swartz says, “In addition, the compound 1,3-diphenylpropane ...was observed, and to our knowledge, this species has not previously been reported from ambient sampling. It has been associated with polystyrene and other plastics, which are in abundance at the WTC site.

Only after Jones’ deceptive comments were publicly criticized did he include Swartz’s explanation in his presentations.

Likewise, in this presentation, Jones claims that WTC-area dust samples showed elevated levels of elements that indicate the use of thermite. Note his statement in yellow at lower right:



Jones cites a government report on post-9/11 dust samples in lower Manhattan. Here’s what the report actually says:

"The trace metal compositions of the dust and girder coatings likely reflect contributions of material from a wide variety of sources. Possibilities include metals that might be found as pigments in paints (such as titanium, molybdenum, lead, and iron), or metals that occur as traces in, or as major components of, wallboard, concrete, aggregate, copper piping, electrical wiring, and computer equipment. Further detailed SEM studies of dust and beam coating samples are needed to develop a better understanding of the residences of metals in the samples. A detailed review of the materials used in construction, and the elemental composition of materials commonly found in office buildings would also be useful to understand more completely the potential sources and compositions of the materials in the dusts."

There's nothing there that would indicate anything out of the ordinary in the dust samples.

Another report about the settled dust at the WTC says,
"The levels of many of the elements are consistent with their presence in building materials, including chromium, magnesium, manganese, aluminum, and barium." Source (p. 709)

And the zinc? Galvanized zinc coating covered roughly 150 acres of corrugated steel floor decking in the towers. Red oxide zinc chromate primer paint was used on the structural steel, and many of the aircraft components were coated with zinc corrosion protection. Zinc also constitutes 10-40% of the content of brass, and a significant portion of bronze and nickel, and is used in many other construction and mechanical applications.

A common CT claim is that the angled column in the photo below is evidence of a cut made by thermite / thermate. Until recently this photo was prominently featured on the “Scholars for Truth” website and in Steven Jones’ papers and presentations. It still is featured on the page of another website promoting a debate challenge by the Scholars on teamliberty.net:




Had these CTs taken a minute to enlarge the photo, as I have done below, they would have seen that the column shows obvious blowtorch marks, and slag sitting on top of the loose debris. Ironworkers used oxyacetylene torches to cut the WTC steel. Similar cuts are seen in many Ground Zero photos.




Below: My comparison of known use of thermite with Jones' suspected thermite cut. The top photo shows the characteristic residue left by thermite. The bottom photo shows what Steven Jones wants us to believe is a cut made by thermite. In fact it looks nothing like a thermite cut, and shows obvious signs of torch cutting. Is it any wonder why Jones didn't use a photo of known thermite use for comparison? I have seen thousands of photos from the WTC cleanup, including photos in private collections made by Ground Zero workers. None show any sign of thermite/thermate use.


Thermite/thermate cuts vertically, guided by gravity. For example, the military uses thermite to disable materiel to prevent it being used by the enemy. A thermite grenade placed on the horizontal hood of a truck will melt straight down through the engine block. If a necessarily huge amount of thermite was used to significantly weaken or cut through the thick WTC steel, it would have left behind unmistakable signs of its work.

To attack a thick vertical steel column with thermite, a large, complex, and extremely durable (capable of withstanding temperatures of 4000 °F) apparatus would have to be attached to each column to hold the thermite against the steel throughout the cutting process. And equally durable ignition devices (timers / wiring / radio receivers: take your pick) would need to survive the aircraft impacts/debris impacts and raging fires, and work perfectly when needed.

The huge thermite devices would have to be attached to many columns, for redundancy, because the “conspirators” would not know exactly where the planes or debris would hit. Obviously, it would be highly suspicious if the building collapses initiated in an undamaged area.

All this work would have to be done invisibly, with absolutely no chance of detection.

No thermite cutting devices were found in the three billion pounds of debris that was meticulously sorted by FBI investigators and NYPD detectives at Fresh Kills Landfill.

No evidence of thermite or thermate use at the WTC has ever been found. Zero. Steven Jones ignores the many possible sources of the trace chemicals he found on steel and in reports of dust analysis. And as a reminder, Jones does not have a chain of custody for the steel he examined that would rule out other sources of contamination.

NIST’s informative FAQ covers the thermite question (excerpt):

"Separate from the WTC towers investigation, NIST researchers estimated that at least 0.13 pounds of thermite would be required to heat each pound of a steel section to approximately 700 degrees Celsius (the temperature at which steel weakens substantially). Therefore, while a thermite reaction can cut through large steel columns, many thousands of pounds of thermite would need to have been placed inconspicuously ahead of time, remotely ignited, and somehow held in direct contact with the surface of hundreds of massive structural components to weaken the building. This makes it an unlikely substance for achieving a controlled demolition.

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 towers, and sulfur is present [approx. 19% by weight] in the gypsum wallboard that was prevalent in the interior partitions." (bolding mine)

I’ve only delved this far into this subject to show how quickly the CT claims unravel when examined in the light of the facts, and how far even a prominent, trained scientist will go to distort the truth.

For now, perhaps we should leave the final word on this issue to Brent Blanchard of Protec, from his paper A Critical Analysis of the Collapse of WTC Towers 1, 2 & 7 from an Explosives and Conventional Demolition Industry Viewpoint:

"Dr. Jones acknowledges that his investigation is still in the research phase and that questions regarding the viability of his theory remain unanswered. For example, it is unknown how thermite’s destructive process could have been applied and initiated simultaneously on so many beams – in several buildings – undetected and/or under such extreme conditions. It is also unusual that no demolition personnel at any level noticed telltale signs of thermite’s degenerative “fingerprint” on any beams during the eight months of debris removal."