Sep 11, 2015

Who Could Forget When Chemical Weapons Were Tested in D.C.?

Col. Smith S. Leach was a West Point grad (class of 1875) who worked on river and harbor improvements around the country, prepared “The Engineer’s Field Manual” for the Army and was in charge of the District’s water supply.  He died in 1909 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.  Nine years later, the Army decided to rename one of Washington’s newest military installations in his honor.  Camp Leach had formerly — and briefly — been known as American University Camp, for that was where it was located: on 650 acres of land donated by the college in Spring Valley in Northwest Washington ... During World War I, the Army created and tested chemical weapons at Camp Leach and at a contiguous facility called the American University Experiment Station ... Eventually, the Army’s Chemical Warfare Service took over.  Engineers performed gas-mask research, investigated offensive and defensive chemicals, and developed smoke mixtures for Navy smoke screens and Army battlefield signaling.  
Hundreds of different gases were tested in Spring Valley, including mustard gas, phosgene and ammonium cyanide ... The war ended on Nov. 11, 1918.  The Army moved out of Spring Valley in 1921.  Somehow, people forgot what had gone on there.  They were reminded on Jan. 6, 1993, when a contractor digging a utility trench on 52nd Court NW noticed something odd in the bucketful of dirt his backhoe had just unearthed: a canister that made “a sloshing sound.”  Ruh-roh.  Ever since then, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has overseen a cleanup in what is now one of Washington’s toniest neighborhoods.  About $260 million has been spent so far, said Dan Noble, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Baltimore District. Work is expected to be finished around 2020.  It doesn’t sound as if the War to End All Wars is quite over.
John Kelly
Washington Post
September 5, 2015

Sep 4, 2015

Spring Valley Environmental Writer Janet Bohlen Dies at Home at 86

Janet T. Bohlen, 86, an environmental writer, conservationist and former communications director for the World Wildlife Fund, died Aug. 3 at her home in Lexington, Mass.  The cause was complications from lymphoma, said her husband, Curtis Bohlen.  The Bohlens moved to Lexington from the District in 2013.  Mrs. Bohlen was born Janet Trowbridge in New York and grew up in Washington.  In the late 1980s, she was communications director for the World Wildlife Fund.  She also worked for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Among her books was For the Wild Places: Profiles in Conservation (1993), about five leaders in conservation biology.  As a young woman, she worked for the CIA in Norway and later accompanied her husband on Foreign Service assignments in Afghanistan and Egypt.
Washington Post 
September 4, 2015

Janet Bohlen inspects a faded 1918 photo of a dozen Army soldiers standing shoulder-deep in rugged trenches.  The uniformed men aim their rifles at an unseen target behind American University.  “It looks like they’re right on the playing field, doesn’t it?” she says, sitting in her living room.  “Wouldn’t you love to be able to identify exactly where that is now?”  From the other side of her coffee table, her husband, Buff, quips, “Don’t you recognize your own back yard?”  The Bohlens have lived in the Spring Valley section of Northwest Washington for 52 years, raising three children and now settling into retirement ... 
In the early 2000s, the Army Corps found the vestiges of a shed once filled with detonators under a 70-year-old tree in the Bohlens’ back yard, where Janet Bohlen said her daughter and neighborhood children would often play.  Her daughter had severe mercury poisoning years before the discoveries, but Janet said there is no way for her family to know whether the Army artifacts and that condition were related.  Janet has been treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a condition the 2007 study recognized as potentially arsenic-related.
Sylvia Carignan
Washington Post
December 11, 2011
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