Nov 3, 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

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
Introduction
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

Sep 27, 2017

Army Corps to Peek for Munitions Under AU President’s Residence

The Army Corps of Engineers plans to drill 12 to 15 holes in the basement of 4835 Glenbrook Road NW, after environmental remediation workers suffered apparent chemical exposure along the Spring Valley home’s property line.  The property — the currently vacant official residence for American University’s president — adjoins the neighborhood’s most infamous address: 4825 Glenbrook, where the Army’s cleanup efforts have included razing a home and excavating down to bedrock.  The news came at the Sept. 12 meeting of the Restoration Advisory Board, a body that oversees the Army’s cleanup of World War I-era munitions and chemical contamination in Spring Valley and the American University campus.  “We didn’t see any of this previously,” the Army’s Brenda Barber said at the meeting.  Barber said the Army doesn’t expect to demolish 4835 Glenbrook, but officials added that the possibility exists if the investigation uncovers dangerous chemicals below the home. “If there are chemical agents under the house, we’re not going to leave them there,” the Army’s Dan Noble said.
Sylvia Burwell, the new American University president, had originally planned to move into the property but now will not.  Christine Dieterich, who lives across the street at 4830 Glenbrook, blasted the cleanup leadership for saying previously there were no problems at 4835.  During the major cleanup of 4825, she took her two small children to live in a nearby rental apartment to ensure their safety.  “You tell me my kids are safe,” she said at the meeting, which she attended with her attorney.  “You don’t have a clue” ... A board of investigation has interviewed the workers and their medical personnel, and is reviewing all project data of the day of the incident as well as the project’s work plans, procedures and safety protocols.  A report is due by the end of October.  Several residents active on the Spring Valley cleanup issue have pointed to comments by construction workers who built 4825 and 4835 Glenbrook in the early 1990s.  Some workers said in 2013 that both houses were built atop hazardous materials, but Noble said that information contradicts workers’ 1990s accounts.
Northwest Current
September 27, 2107 (pg. 3)

Aug 16, 2017

Glenbrook Road Cleanup Halted after Seven Workers Hospitalized

Workers cleaning up a contaminated Spring Valley property were hospitalized last Wednesday after suffering symptoms of possible chemical exposure, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the cleanup effort.  In response to the Aug. 9 incident, the Army has suspended excavation at the 4825 Glenbrook Road NW property and is now reviewing its next steps ... The Army Corps has been cleaning up the Spring Valley neighborhood since 1993, when it became clear that the area had been contaminated by World War I-era chemical munitions testing conducted by the U.S. Army at American University.  The property at 4825 Glenbrook is perhaps the neighborhood’s most notorious, and the Army tore down the home in 2012 to fully investigate the site and remove its soil down to bedrock.  
Last Wednesday, workers were hand-digging along the property line between 4825 and 4835 Glenbrook — American University’s official president’s residence, which is currently unoccupied — when they suffered “eye and skin irritation and other minor symptoms,” according to a [Aug. 10] message from the Army to the community.  The workers reported an odor consistent with mustard breakdown products, and seven of them were hospitalized on Wednesday afternoon and released that night.  The work was taking place in a section of the property that the Army terms “low probability” — meaning that it had fewer protections than “high probability” locations, where excavation was conducted under the cover of a protective tent ... The workers were hand-digging between 5 and 10 feet below ground level when the possible exposure occurred, according to [Army Corps spokesperson Christopher] Gardner.  

They were wearing gloves and other protective clothing ... It may take months before excavation resumes at 4825 and 4835 Glenbrook, Gardner said, pending the results of the Army’s review.  In the meantime, protective plastic sheeting is covering the area where the workers suffered possible exposure, and investigators will be on site this week testing for the presence of various chemicals there.  According to Gardner, the workers had been finding scattered pieces of broken glass related to the Army’s World War I-era activities, and areas of soil there were contaminated with “small black chunks of material with low levels of mustard agent and agent breakdown product.”  Once the project resumes, excavation will take place on both sides of the property line, Gardner said.
Brady Holt
Northwest Current
August 16, 2017

Late yesterday afternoon around 3pm, while hand digging soils along the shared property line, our teams began exhibiting symptoms of possible exposure.  This included eye and skin irritation and other minor symptoms.  The teams were in level D Personal Protective Equipment with a slung mask (paper Tyvek suit, rubber over boots, and nitrile gloves) while hand excavating soils.  The teams underwent decontamination on site and were sent for medical monitoring per our safety plans and procedures.  Seven team members were transported to George Washington Hospital at approximately 4pm.  The team received another decontamination shower courtesy of the hospital staff, then medical monitoring began.  The team underwent urinalysis for mustard exposure and blood samples were taken from everyone ... 

There were no detections on any of our air monitoring equipment during the excavation activities that would indicate agent migrated away the excavation area, but the team did note they smelled an odor at the excavation area which could indicate the presence of mustard breakdown products ... The MINICAMS, our first line of detection, did not detect any signs of contaminants in the air.  Additionally, the handheld equipment to monitoring for arsine and hydrogen chloride (HCL) did not detect any contaminants ... The DAAMs tube results for yesterday indicate no agent was detected at any of the perimeter locations or the dig site location as well so we had no sign of any agent or agent breakdown products outside of the soil itself where crews were working.
Carrie Johnston
Glenbrook Road Project Special Update
August 10, 2017

Aug 6, 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 ahengst@verizon.net.
 
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