The World Trade Center towers may have fallen, but the steel that once gave them strength has been salvaged from the site.

Now comes the question of what happens to it. The metal and other recyclable material recovered from the site is sacred to many, and is both emotionally and financially valuable.

The Port Authority estimates more than 200,000 tons of steel was used in the World Trade Center's construction. Of that total, more than 168,000 tons has been salvaged from Ground Zero thus far, according to the New York City Office of Emergency Management

Three companies – Metal Management Northeast of Newark, N.J., Hugo Neu Schnitzer East of Jersey City and Blandford Land Development Corporation of Brooklyn, N.Y. – have successfully bid for city contracts to recycle the steel, and continue to bid on what remains to be salvaged.

"Once they have it in their possession they in turn have the right to sell it," Matthew Monahan, City of New York Department of Design and Construction spokesman said. "It becomes their steel."

And that's something the DDC hopes and others hope is very carefully handled.

A sale to a Georgia foundry already elicited an outcry when some of the steel was forged into commemorative medallions. Some 10,000 medallions were sold, prompting angry accusations that one company, International Agile Manufacturing, was profiting from the disaster.

Promises to donate medallions to victims' families failed to appease outraged critics, and the company was forced to abandon the project.

"There is going to be a large number of people never found because their bodies were pulverized. In all probability, their bodies could be with the steel in those medallions," said Michael Cartier, co-founder of Give Your Voice, a victims' families group.

Another 37,000 tons of the steel donated to Jim Gallucci, a sculptor in Greensboro, N.C., is being transformed into a work of art to memorialize the tragedy.

Metal Management donated the steel to Gallucci under the condition that it return to New York, a condition the sculptor is honored to oblige.

"There's a message in that material that we want to keep – the meaning, the purpose, the enormous sorrow wrapped up in this," he said. "I'm going to let the people of New York decide where it goes," he said.

"We're hoping maybe it will travel around the country for a while, too … everyone's seen it on TV, but when you really see this massive piece of twisted metal, there's an energy there that you begin to understand."

The sculpture is in the design stage now, and Gallucci is hoping to have it completed by Sept. 11, 2002.

There is also money to be made from the steel. Asian steel mills have already purchased more than 50,000 tons of it from scrap yards, and reportedly are pledging not to use it to create souvenirs.

DDC Commissioner Kenneth Holden has worked to ensure that everyone involved in recycling of the material respects this special batch of steel.

"I strongly urge you to sell the steel from the World Trade Center only to companies who, to the best of your knowledge, do not intend to directly profit from the tragic events of September 11," he wrote in a letter to the three companies.