Army Corps of Engineers, Project Updates | Archive

Information for C.D.C. Parents on the
Army Corps of Engineers Project

American University is committed to providing information about the ongoing Corps of Engineers (COE) activities on campus. Recently, soil surrounding the Child Development Center was tested. Preliminary results show elevated levels of arsenic. American University understands that you have many questions and concerns about the preliminary sampling. In this fact sheet, we have provided answers to some of your most frequently asked questions. We will address additional questions you may have in tonight's meeting.

What is the University doing to ensure that my child is safe?

The safety and education of the children and the safety of the faculty is the highest priority for the University. To ensure the safety of the children and faculty, we have moved the CDC to another location as a precautionary measure after we received the Corps' preliminary sampling results. In addition, the layer of mulch inside the fence at the CDC protects children from exposure to the soil. To determine if children have been exposed to arsenic, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) will conduct testing by collecting samples from the children's hair, with parental consent. This testing will be done according to standard protocols, and the parents will receive the results of the testing.

What is arsenic? Do I have to worry that my child has been exposed to it?

Arsenic is a gray, metal-like substance that occurs naturally in soil, water, and in the foods we eat. Arsenic has been used widely in the manufacture of agricultural and wood preservation products designed to control insects, weeds, and other pests that damage crops and goods. The mulch at the CDC protects children from exposure to the soil. If your child was exposed, there is no indication that the levels of arsenic present would cause adverse health effects. A child would have to ingest high doses over a very long period of time before his/her health would be affected.

What were the preliminary test results at the CDC?

The Corps of Engineers (COE) took 67 samples. The average level of arsenic in the soil is 57 parts per million (ppm). Because this exceeds EPA's action level of 43 ppm, the COE will excavate the soil. Thirty samples were below 13 ppm, the background level for the area; 25 samples were between 15 and 100 ppm; 7 samples were between 100 and 200 ppm; 4 samples were between 200 and 300 ppm, and one sample was above 400 ppm. As you can see, arsenic was found at varying levels across the area.

How would I know if my child has been affected by arsenic?

Based on data collected at the Spring Valley and AU areas, there is no indication that the levels of arsenic present would cause health effects. It is highly unlikely that your child would experience any symptoms of illness as a result of arsenic at the CDC. However, prolonged ingestion of high levels of inorganic arsenic can potentially cause skin conditions, irritation to the digestive tract, and, in extreme cases, cancerous effects. This is possible only with ingestion of high doses of arsenic over a very long period of time.

How much soil would my child have to ingest to be affected by arsenic?

There is a very low chance that the levels of arsenic at the CDC could cause adverse health effects. Your child would have to ingest high doses regularly over several years. Of course, the amount of arsenic absorbed would depend on the amount of soil ingested and the physiology of the child.

Are there any health studies planned for the children?

Yes. With permission from parents, ATSDR, in conjunction with the D.C. Department of Health, will conduct exposure tests for the children who attend the CDC. The voluntary test is painless to the children and is performed at no charge to the parents. ATSDR will collect a hair sample of about ¼ inch thick from the back of each child's head using a pair of scissors. ATSDR will provide parents with the results and an explanation of the results. The individual results will not be made available to the University or the public, but a written report that discusses the findings, which will not identify personal results, will be available upon conclusion of the investigation. We hope that this testing will help to reassure parents.

When will the children return to the CDC?

We anticipate that the excavation inside the fence at the CDC will be completed in March. However, the operation of the CDC may remain in Leonard Hall after that time. We will re-evaluate this in the next few weeks. The Corps will place clean soil in the excavated areas and then place sod over the new soil. Because sod needs time to take root, the children will not be able to play on it immediately. We would also like to minimize the number of times that children are moved.

For more information

An information line has been set up specifically to address questions from the American University community about the Corps of Engineers Project going on at AU. Please call 202-885-2020 and leave your name, phone number, and question or concern. We will return your call within 24 hours.

The D.C. Department of Health also is creating an information line to be operational in the near future. You can call them at 202-535-1755.

January 23, 2001