As much of the campus is probably aware, for almost 15 years the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been conducting clean-up operations to remove World War I materiel discovered at various locations on or near the American University main campus and throughout the Spring Valley neighborhood. The presence of these materials dates back to 1917-18, when parts of the AU campus and the surrounding area were used by the U.S. government and the U.S. Army as a site to develop and test chemical weapons.
On October 29, the Corps is scheduled to resume the excavation and removal of items in a burial pit located at 4825 Glenbrook Road, a residential property owned by AU in the neighborhood adjacent to campus. The digging operations will be between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, for an estimated 14 weeks; they will not work on weekends or holidays. This work entails the removal of a known cache of World War I era munitions that was previously discovered; tests conducted on munitions removed from this site indicate the possible presence of chemical agents including mustard and arsine gas. Given the nature of these materials, the Corps is implementing a number of safety precautions, including a containment structure and filtration unit around the burial pit to prevent the release of harmful chemicals into the environment in case of an accident, and monitors to detect any unusual airborne agent.
Even though the potential for a chemical release is highly unlikely, we want to ensure that everyone is prepared to take appropriate action in case of an emergency. For those campus areas closest to the work site (map is at the end of this memo), we will conduct a series of “shelter-in-place” briefings to outline what to do in an emergency. We will contact the affected units directly to provide that information and will post the schedule for those briefings on the AU website. A siren notification and an automated telephone tree also will kick into motion in case of an accident or chemical detection.
Although the Corps clean-up activities have lasted for years on the AU campus and in neighboring Spring Valley, we will maintain a vigilant focus to ensure the safety and well-being of the AU community for the duration of these operations. We will inform students, faculty and staff regarding the schedule of work, the potential risk, the safety precautions the Corps will have during the excavation, and the emergency response procedures to be implemented by the university, Army Corps, and District of Columbia safety officials. Toward that end we address a number of issues in the attached question and answer document. We also will continue to post relevant information on the AU website dedicated to this project. (To access that site, go the AU homepage, click on Offices and Services, then AU Offices Directory, then Army Corps project).
Some may consider the precautions we are taking as excessive and possibly causing alarm; I will accept that criticism, however, to ensure the maximum level of safety for AU’s faculty, students, staff and visitors. I will communicate with the community again as the work prepares to begin, and will continue to update you regarding relevant information we receive from the Army Corps.
If you have questions or concerns about the Army Corps work about to commence, please call 202-885-2020.
AU's strategic plan, Leadership for a Changing World, outlines goals and objectives for the next decade at American University. Visit american.edu/strategicplan for more information. (myAU.american.edu login required for some documents)