This memorandum provides the most recent information we have regarding the Army Corps of Engineers’ continuing investigation of the AU campus, which was used by the Army during World War I as a site for testing and research activities.
As reported to the campus community in March, since completing soil sampling on campus last year and based on its research of World War I archival materials, the Corps has been conducting geophysical work (detection of buried metal) in the following areas: the intramural (IM) fields, the Child Development Center (CDC), the Public Safety building, Watkins and Kreeger buildings, and the President’s Residence.
The geophysical survey yielded some readings of metal detection. However, this does not necessarily mean they are related to World War I activities, since the geophysical equipment detects any metal item, whether a soft drink can or a hubcap, but cannot identify the item beyond indicating its presence. [The only exception was a harmless shell fragment found close to the surface behind the Public Safety building.] Therefore, the Corps will begin to investigate items identified by the geophysical survey in conjunction with its ongoing soil remediation project. The Corps will have to change the order of its procedures somewhat, but this will not affect the overall soil removal and replacement activities now underway.
In the months ahead, you will see crews conducting operations on the IM fields, in areas near the CDC and Kreeger buildings, in back of the Public Safety building, and at the President’s Residence. The Corps plans to start excavating near the CDC in the first week of June. If no problems are encountered, the excavation project is projected to last approximately four months. This additional investigative work will cause delays to the original timetable for completing Army Corps work on our campus. The most disruptive impact will be on the IM fields, which will not be available for use this fall, and on the CDC, which cannot return to its building until the IM work is completed. Scheduling for work at the President’s Residence will occur after those two areas have been totally remediated.
It is important to underscore that we have no evidence that the items identified by the geophysical testing pose a risk to members of the campus community. The Corps wants to identify and excavate these items as a safety precaution, in case digging occurs in these areas in the future (e.g., to repair utility lines).
In addition to the geophysical work just completed, we have received results from the final soil samplings on campus, including an area near McDowell and Hughes Halls (to the right as one faces the Campus Directory sign at the entrance to the campus). Of 106 samples of this recent grid sampling taken in this area, 16 contained arsenic above 20 ppm (parts per million), the number that will likely be set for Spring Valley as the level requiring cleanup. The majority of these 16 results showed arsenic levels just above the 20 ppm range, and all but one were below 43 ppm, which is the EPA standard for immediate removal. A single sample of 74.5 ppm was found and will be remediated.
The AU environmental health scientist consultant, Dr. Paul Chrostowski, who has been extremely helpful in analyzing and explaining test results from the beginning of Army Corps activities on our campus, indicates that the levels present in the McDowell and Hughes areas in particular are completely safe for normal use (people walking or sitting on the grass, for example). Someone would have to deliberately ingest approximately one tablespoon of contaminated soil every day for several years to experience even minimal, adverse health affects. Nevertheless, using the same precaution we have in other similar areas targeted during this testing and remediation project, we will prohibit activities that disturb the soil in this area, such as landscaping or construction. The Army Corps has not yet given us a specific schedule for working in this area. We will inform the campus when the excavation is scheduled and the area is completely remediated.
We continue to appreciate the patience and understanding exhibited by the campus community in the face of the inconveniences caused by the Army Corps activities. We will continue to work with the Corps to ensure that it completes its activities as quickly as possible, and we will keep the campus updated as we move forward.
If you have questions regarding the Army Corps of Engineers project at AU, please call the information line at (202) 885-2020. You may review information about the project on the web site at www.american.edu/usace.