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Army Corps of Engineers, Project Update | Archive


September 14, 2001

 TO:  Campus Community
 FROM:  Benjamin Ladner
 SUBJECT:  Army Corps of Engineers Activity Update


The Army Corps of Engineers has been conducting environmental investigations and cleanup activities on the AU campus resulting from the Army’s World War I testing and research activities in Northwest Washington. This memo will bring the campus community up to date on the progress made over the summer and will provide basic information for new members of our community who may not be familiar with this project.


During World War I, our campus was one of several parcels of land in Northwest Washington used by the War Department for training troops and for research and testing on munitions of that era. Experiments at the American University Experiment Station and Camp Leach (as they were called) involved several compounds, including some that contained arsenic.

Arsenic is a gray, metal-like substance that occurs naturally in soil, water, and in foods we eat, and has been widely used in the manufacture of agriculture and wood preservation products designed to control insects, weeds, and other pests that damage crops and goods. It is important to note that soil containing elevated levels of arsenic poses no risk by simply walking near it. According to studies by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and by other health organizations, arsenic would have to be directly ingested by persons to pose a risk to their health. Although the health expert working with AU, Dr. Paul Chrostowski of CPF Associates, does not believe anyone on AU’s campus would be affected by arsenic—and health tests conducted on individuals to date have supported this—prolonged ingestion of high levels of inorganic arsenic has the potential to cause skin conditions, irritation to the digestive tract, and perhaps skin cancer. However, these types of health effects are possible only with high doses being ingested over a long period of time.

The military had ceased activities on campus and the surrounding area by 1921. They removed buildings and other temporary structures, transferred war materiel to military bases, and ostensibly restored the area to its pre-war condition. The Army’s activities were largely forgotten over the years as the University and surrounding neighborhoods grew into the populated areas they are today.

However, over the past 15 years, the Army has returned to the region, including the AU campus, to deal with issues from their World War I activities and to clean the soil of any compounds that remain. Over the past two years, much of the Army’s excavation and soil remediation work has focused on two properties adjacent to the AU campus along Glenbrook Road—one being the residence of the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea; the other a private residence.

Child Development Center

Nearly a year ago the Army Corps notified the University of elevated levels of arsenic in the soil around the AU Child Development Center (CDC). Acting out of an abundance of caution, the University relocated the children and staff of the CDC to Leonard Hall, where they will remain until the Corps has finished its remediation and clean-up activities at the CDC site.

In February 2001, working with federal, city, and our own independent health experts, the University arranged for arsenic testing for those who had the greatest exposure to those areas—current CDC children and staff, children who attended CDC in the previous 12 months, rugby players, and grounds and maintenance staff. No one in the test group had elevated levels of arsenic in their systems. In most cases, the tests detected no arsenic at all, and in cases where some arsenic was detected, it was in the range normally found in people.

The Corps also conducted soil sampling for approximately 200 compounds at the Child Development Center (CDC) in February 2001. We received sampling results in June and notified the campus community in a memo on June 22. Based on initial assessments by Dr. Chrostowski, the great majority of the compounds, excluding arsenic, are below the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) levels of concern. Dr. Chrostowski is continuing his in-depth review of the data, and a more complete report is will be presented in a separate update.

Last month, the Corps began to excavate, remove, and replace the soils at the CDC, with anticipated completion this fall. The Corps began its excavation at a depth of two feet and is currently digging at depths between 5 and 11 feet below the surface. Testing of the subsurface soil from these depths has revealed some elevated results that sharply exceed the surface level results. The August readings range from 3.2 parts-per-million (ppm) to a single reading of 3,550 ppm at a depth of five feet. The EPA Emergency Removal Standard is 43ppm. At these depths, the affected soils were not accessible to the children playing in the CDC yard or the maintenance or grounds workers responsible for the CDC grounds. Nevertheless, the CDC remediation and clean-up protocol calls for the excavation and removal of all affected soils, which will then be replaced with clean soil.

Before the CDC is returned for use, however, additional steps must be taken, which include installing new playground equipment, laying ground cover, and cleaning and repainting the building interior. Then, the D.C. Department of Health must inspect and re-license the center for use as a day care facility. Although we do not yet know when the building will be ready for use, we will continue to make sure that the children are comfortable in their temporary quarters at Leonard Hall.

Dust and Water

Meanwhile, the Corps has continued its investigation and cleanup of the AU campus during the summer. In late spring, the University conducted tests on the dust generated by grounds keeping activities such as leaf blowing and lawn mowing. Preliminary results indicated no risk of air-borne contamination and were well below all relevant occupational exposure standards. Complete test results will be posted on the web-site when the final data are available in the near future.

In recent weeks, we have received questions about the campus water quality. The University uses municipal water, as does the surrounding community. The water supply is tested regularly by the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (WASA). According to D.C. officials, the water has not been affected by the World War I era materiel. City water meets EPA drinking standards. WASA publishes an annual drinking water quality report, as required by EPA, and you may access the report at

Intramural Fields

The Corps also conducted soil sampling on AU’s intramural fields earlier this spring and the rest of campus this fall. When the Army Corps informed us that the intramural fields had elevated levels of arsenic in the soil (although in lower levels than the CDC), we immediately closed those fields. The test results for arsenic on the intramural fields indicated that of 476 soil samples taken, only 16 were above 43ppm, the EPA standard for removal. Dr. Chrostowski is reviewing these sampling results as well, and his full analysis of the data will be made available to the campus in the near future. We are working with the Army Corps, EPA, and D.C. Health on the scope and timetable for remediation. Until then, the intramural fields will remain closed and athletics activities normally held on those fields will be held elsewhere.

President’s Residence

The soil at the President’s Residence on Glenbrook Road has also been sampled. Of more than 50 samples taken, only one exceeded the EPA arsenic removal threshold of 43ppm. We are working with the Army Corps, EPA, and D.C. Health on proposals for remediation as needed on this University property. Nancy and I continue to live in the Residence during these activities.

Other Campus Areas

The Corps has begun to sample other portions of campus, including the soccer field and across Massachusetts Avenue near the Cassell Building. We are working with the Corps to ensure that the investigation and cleanup of the campus moves forward in a safe, complete, and timely manner. We will keep the campus community informed about sampling and cleanup locations as the information becomes available.

Other Activities Related to the Project

On July 13, 2001, the University filed an administrative claim with the U.S. Army, seeking damages of $86.6 million under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The discovery of warfare materiel and elevated levels of arsenic in the soil has required the University to expend considerable time and resources to address the situation. (A press release discussing the AU’s claim is posted on the AU website.)

On July 27, 2001, I testified at a hearing on the Army Corps project before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on the District of Columbia. That testimony is also available for review on the AU website.

Contact Information

There is no higher priority than the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, and other members of the AU campus community, and we are committed to keeping you informed as completely as possible. This and all other communications on the Army Corps activities on campus are posted on the AU website dedicated to this project, Also, you may be interested in the most recent issue of American Magazine, which recounts military activity on the AU campus since 1917.

In addition to the website, we have established an information line at 202-885-2020 for anyone with questions or concerns about the Army Corps project. The Corps also provides regular updates on its Spring Valley Information Line at 1-800-434-0988 and its web site at <>. (Click on Washington DC, and then click on Spring Valley). The Corps has two information repositories that contain documents pertaining to the investigation and cleanup. You may visit the information repository at the Palisades Library at 4901 V Street NW, or contact the library at 202-282-3139. The other repository is located at the Corps of Engineers trailer behind Sibley Memorial Hospital. Please call ahead to make an appointment if you wish to visit, 202-686-3359. The D.C. Department of Health has also established an information line at 202-535-1755