Dec 21, 2017

"The area in the south and the west and the north that coalition forces control is substantial. It happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."
Donald Rumsfeld

NPR Broadcast Delves 'Inside America’s Chemical Arms Race'

Joshua Johnson: It's been about a hundred years since the U.S. developed chemical weapons to use during World War I weapons that still, to this day are not fully accounted for ...

Theo Emory: In World War I the American University campus was used as a chemical warfare research facility ... It had people in Spring Valley very concerned and I think, at various times, it had American University concerned.  It was right in the heart of Washington, DC.  There was this huge mystery over what was buried in the ground: what was there, what remained and was it a danger ...

JohnsonLesley emailed, I have a question for Theo: "Would he buy a house or move into the area around AU knowing what he knows about the history of chemical weapons testing and dumping in the area?  It's an ongoing debate in my family."

Emory: It is an ongoing debate and it goes on on a [bimonthly] basis in Spring Valley when the residents get together with the Army Corps of Engineers and talk about updates at the cleanup, which has been going on for 25 years now ...

Dan Noble: The Spring Valley Formerly Used Defense Site is about 650 acres.  We have laid out in a Decision Document that was signed this past June what we feel are some final tasks that we need to do on a site-wide basis to clean up ... And as well, we have an investigation ongoing into some groundwater contamination that's associated with the Experiment Station ...

Emory: There has been some concern in the neighborhood about what AU has disclosed, what they knew and when they knew it ... But, as Dan said, communications are probably better now than they ever have been in the past. 
1A "Speaking Freely"
WAMU-FM 88.5
December 19, 2017

Nov 28, 2017

Army Will Bore 15 Holes through 4835 Glenbrook Basement Dec. 4

The cleanup of a World War I chemical weapons testing site is on hold for the foreseeable future, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepares to drill holes in the basement of the American University president’s official residence, looking for evidence of discarded munitions.  More than five years after the house at 4825 Glenbrook Rd. NW, was removed, and as the cleanup of toxic munitions neared completion, the Army Corps will soon bore approximately 15 2-inch holes through the basement foundation, and in the yard and back patio of 4835 Glenbrook Rd. ... In a Sept. meeting of the Restoration Advisory Board, project manager Brenda Barber said recent testing has found low levels of Mustard and Lewisite, which were used in World War I chemical weapons.
The colorless and odorless compounds can cause blistering and lung irritation.  Barber said the test bores will be done the week of Dec. 4 ... Barber said it is premature to discuss the possibility that remediation could include razing the home, which is currently valued at $3,898,350, according to D.C.’s Office of Tax and Revenue.  “I don’t want to be predecisional, but we definitely are doing our due diligence,” said Barber.  Regardless, Barber said it is unlikely excavation will resume in the next several months, so the Army Corps will essentially shut-down the site, save for a skeleton staff ... The university’s new president, Sylvia Burwell, had planned to live in the home, which is owned by the university, but will not, because of the ongoing work.  The recent discovery and upcoming testing is causing a substantial delay to the cleanup project.
Neal Augenstein
November 28, 2017

Nov 3, 2017

Please Don't "Minimize" Overdue Cleanup at 4835 Glenbrook Road

I’m grateful for The Current’s tenacious coverage of the Army Corps’ ongoing 24-year cleanup of World War I-era munitions and chemical contamination in Northwest Washington.  Your Sept. 27 article — “Spring Valley munitions cleanup to scrutinize AU president’s house” — was a typically concise and accurate report on the Army’s recent decision to look again at the vacant 4835 Glenbrook Road NW home (a controversial location, which officials previously insisted did not constitute a health threat to the community).  It took the hospitalization of seven of its own cleanup crew members after exposure to chemical agent on Aug. 9 before the Army finally reconsidered its premature closeout of the investigation there [“Glenbrook Road munitions cleanup paused after workers hospitalized,” Aug. 16, The Current].  I take exception to project manager Dan Noble casting doubt on construction workers’ recent statements — that 4835 Glenbrook (the American University president’s house) was built atop hazardous materials — by claiming that the worker’s comments in the 1990s about 4825 Glenbrook (the adjoining property) were more accurate ...  
I speak as the filmmaker who provided transcripts to the Army Corps, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the D.C. Department of Energy & Environment from two decades of my interviews with these workers ... At the May 2016 and May 2017 meetings of the Spring Valley Restoration Advisory Board, these same workers drove from their homes in West Virginia to speak out publicly with courage and conviction concerning their eyewitness observations of chemical warfare materiel buried under the concrete beneath 4835 Glenbrook Road.  Yet the Army Corps keeps trying to minimize or deny the eyewitness testimony of the real heroes of Spring Valley.  The dozen or so test pits, which the Army now intends to drill along the basement wall of 4835 Glenbrook’s perimeter, are a good start. But more thorough testing throughout the basement, crawl space and garage of 4835 is needed to truly investigate these persistent memories of coverup.
Ginny Durrin
Northwest Current
November 1, 2017

Oct 30, 2017

Explosive Look into Dawn of Chemical Warfare During WW I

During World War I, American University had turned over its campus to the army ... The army leased the fields and wooded dells around the campus to use as a proving ground.  They lobbed mortars and dug trenches.  They tested chemicals on dogs, goats, and other animals, and on men as well.  Many years before the area became Spring Valley, the dell behind the campus earned the nicknames "Death Valley" and "Arsenic Valley."  The soldiers called the hilltop campus Mustard Hill ... After the U.S. Army Corps on Engineers closed the investigation and declared the cleanup of Fifty-Second Court complete, questions arose about another spot across Spring Valley, where houses had been built on the back [south] side of the American University campus ... The corps resisted reopening the investigation, but when they did, they promptly found new chemical weapons detritus, including pits containing hundreds of munitions, some with mustard agent inside, buried in the backyard of the South Korean ambassador's residence.
The new discoveries embarrassed the Army Corps on Engineers and stirred lingering suspicion about the army's commitment to cleaning up Spring Valley.  The environmental remediation, estimated to eventually cost more than $300 million, was still ongoing at press time.  On a crisp November morning in 2012, I stood in a gaggle of reporters in the driveway of a stately brick two-story house ... More than ninety years earlier, Sergeant Maurer had stood on the same hillside and posed beside the pit called Hades with the jars and bottles of chemicals lined up next to him.  The house in front of us had been built atop that spot [sic], and the photo helped to pinpoint the pit's location beneath the back patio of that house ...  The cleanup of the property had proved so complicated, with so many lingering questions about what was still buried there, that the army decided that the easiest route was simply to demolish the house altogether and cart away whatever lay beneath ... In a sense, Hellfire Boys began that day.
... The more I searched for information about the American University Experiment Station, the more puzzled I grew over how little was known about what had happened there.  It seemed strange that this history of chemical warfare in the United States, with its mysterious laboratory tucked into the nation's capital, could be so little understood and so poorly documented ... Since then, I've visited or contacted dozens of libraries and archives.  I've filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the army and the FBI ... [My research] took me into the living rooms of descendants of the soldiers in the Chemical Warfare Service, descendants who were proud of their ancestors but not always comfortable with the work nervous — they wanted it told fairly, dispassionately, factually.  I promised to do the best that I could.  I stand by that pledge.
Theo Emery
Hellfire Boys (pgs. xvii - xx)

Oct 26, 2017

EAGLE Documents Long History of Munitions Cleanup on AU Campus

When the Army Corps of Engineers first closed the Intramural Field for arsenic testing in March 2001, American University could not have anticipated it would still be grappling with cleanup projects over 16 years later.  Now, the work being done on 4825 Glenbrook Road has been paused until investigators know why workers digging on the site showed signs of chemical exposure in August ... The history of the project extends back to 1917, when the U.S. Army used AU’s campus to test chemical weapons during World War I.  Army operations were held in Northwest Washington in what is now known as the Spring Valley neighborhood.  ACE tried for years to pinpoint the location of a waste pit that was captured in a 1918 photograph.
On the back of the photograph, Sergeant Charles Maurer, who is shown standing over the pit, wrote: “The most feared and respected place on the grounds. The bottles are full of mustard [gas], to be destroyed here. In Death Valley. The hole called Hades” ... ACE returned to the Spring Valley neighborhood in the 1990s for cleanup and testing after ACE’s discovery of leftover materials from the project, including exploded munitions items, some of which are still being discovered on AU’s campus ... Arsenic was found at the Glenbrook site in 2010, The Eagle previously reported, and ACE demolished the house there in 2012.  The University also owns a residential property at 4835 Glenbrook Road: the currently vacant official residence for the University President ...
Current AU president Sylvia Burwell was planning to move into the property, according to the Northwest Current, but now will not after more testing in the house’s basement was announced in September.  According to a 2013 Washingtonian article, ACE planned to spend an estimated $12 million to excavate and restore the Glenbrook Road site.  At the time, ACE said the dig “could last into 2014.”  Four years later, ACE is still working to excavate the site, and will continue to clean and test the area well into 2018 ... Next up in the project, the area surrounding the demolished Public Safety building will be examined for munitions debris ... While AU officials have long held that students are not at risk of exposure to harmful chemicals on campus, AU alumni recently formed a Facebook group to share concerns about the safety of the athletics fields near the Glenbrook site and the old Public Safety building area.
Nazli Togrul

Oct 11, 2017

Environmental Group Leads Toxic Tours of Former WW I Army Base

AUES Spring Valley tours provide context to better understand the issues surrounding the cleanup of this Formerly Used Defense Site. Tours focus on historical features of the American University Experiment Station, the current Army Corps of Engineers cleanup operations and residents’ health problems. Tours are led by a former Restoration Advisory Board member and Spring Valley resident. Each tour takes approximately 1½ hours.  Participants see where testing occurred during World War I and where chemical munitions are being removed today. For more information contact
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