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

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