American University (AU) today filed an administrative claim with the United States Army seeking damages of $86.6 million arising from the Army's activities on the AU campus during World War I. AU is seeking damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
The discovery on campus of the Army's World War I chemical warfare materiel has required University officials to take significant measures to ensure the health and safety of AU students, faculty, and staff; to protect children who attend the University's Child Development Center; and to communicate timely and accurate information to the campus community.
The Army's conduct has already inflicted substantial damage on the University causing significant financial losses. AU now faces the prospect of incurring additional damages in the future for, among other things, costs related to the disruption of normal operations, temporary relocation, construction delays, potential loss of donations, and the University's academic reputation. Damages cited include:
$8.6 million for past and future expenses for cleanup and remediation;
$58 million for disruption of normal operations and potential damage to
$20 million for construction delays.
In 1986, prior to construction of the AU sports center, University officials asked the Department of Defense to conduct an investigation to determine whether there was a potential threat to members of the campus community arising from the Army's chemical weapons testing activities during World War I. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) concluded that there was no evidence of the burial of munitions and that no further action was necessary.
In 1993, a construction crew building homes in the nearby Spring Valley area discovered buried World War I-era munitions. In response, the USACE initiated an investigation called "Operation Safe Removal" for the greater Spring Valley area, including the AU campus. The USACE collected and tested soil samples throughout the area, including on the AU campus. In June 1995, the Army issued a Record of Decision concluding that "there are no risks posed by hazardous substances that exceed acceptable risk levels for human health or the environment" in the testing area that included the AU campus. In addition, the Army "found no chemical warfare material, breakdown products or soil contamination that required further action within the site covered by the Record of Decision."
In 1999, the discovery of buried chemical munitions on property owned by the Republic of Korea, located near the AU campus, triggered another round of soil sampling and testing. Based on those test results, the USACE conducted additional testing on the AU campus that revealed elevated levels of arsenic at several sites, including the Child Development Center and the intramural athletic fields. The Corps is continuing to test for arsenic and other chemical agents on campus.
American University's top priority is the safety of the students, faculty, staff, and children of the campus community, and to achieve this, the University has taken and will continue to take all appropriate measures.