Memorandum September 19, 2017
- American University Community
- David Taylor, President's Chief of Staff and Secretary, Board of Trustees
- Army Corps of Engineers-Campus Update
In past years, especially when the work of the Army Corps of Engineers was visible and taking place on the AU campus, we have provided updates on the nature of their work, why they are here at all, and where campus community members and the general public can get more information. Their current work had been confined to a university-owned residential property at 4825 Glenbrook Road, in what the Army Corps had expected to be the final phases of their work on university-owned property. However, recent events indicate their work on Glenbrook Road will continue for longer than expected. Because of this, and some additional work planned on the AU campus (at the old Public Safety site), and because the normal turnover of our campus population means that some AU community members may not be aware of the parcel history and Army Corps presence-we are providing this update.
The project history goes back to 1917-1918, when parts of Northwest Washington including (the AU campus) were used by the U.S. government and the U.S. Army to support the war effort as a site to develop and test chemical weapons. In the early 1990s in an adjacent Spring Valley neighborhood, the discovery of materials left over from their research and testing resulted in the Army Corps of Engineers returning to the region to conduct extensive environmental testing and cleanup operations. With assistance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the D.C. Department of Health, the Army Corps has been sampling, testing, and when necessary, removing and replacing soil throughout the Spring Valley area.
The university's primary concern throughout this process has been the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, and other members of the AU community. A website was created years ago as an information source about the Army Corps project as it affects AU. This website is designed to answer questions, give project information, provide useful links, and serve as a site to post memos sent to the campus community. The university has had on retainer Dr. Paul Chrostowski, founding member of CPF Associates and an environmental engineer, applied toxicologist, and chemist with more than 40 years of experience in environmental science and engineering work. His highly respected assistance has been invaluable for AU, the Army Corps, our environmental partners, and the surrounding community.
Glenbrook Road -- On August 9, 2017, Army Corps contracted workers were digging along the property line between 4825 and 4835 Glenbrook (both university-owned properties) when they encountered contaminants in the soil that required them to stop work and get medical attention for eye and skin irritations. Whatever irritants were released dissipated into the air and were never detected by the Army's air quality monitoring systems. The release was limited to the closed-off work area and posed no risk to the nearby neighborhood or to the AU campus. As a result of the find, all work at 4825 Glenbrook Road has been stopped pending review by the Army Corps on how to proceed. To assist the Army Corps with next steps, the university has given the Army Corps permission to conduct further testing beneath the house at 4835 Glenbrook (currently vacant), to complement the extensive soil sampling and analysis previously conducted at that site. In earlier efforts, the Army Corps dug more than 75 test pits throughout the property, searching for related debris and contaminated soil. Sixty-two of these test pits yielded no suspected debris. Fourteen test pits recovered suspect related items, such as broken lab ware components fragments, i.e., glass tubing, stoppers, and fragments. All excavations were cleared and backfilled.
Former Site - Public Safety Building -- As a separate matter, after the Department of Public Safety was relocated to East Campus this past summer, AU demolished the old Public Safety building on the south end of campus. Following this, the Army Corps of Engineers will conduct additional remediation activities in that area. Per established protocol, the Army Corps work plans are subject to review and approval by the EPA, D.C. Department of the Environment, and American University. The current schedule calls for the Army Corps to mobilize to the site in mid-February 2018, with work commencing in mid-March 2018. The Army Corps estimates this project will be completed by June 2018.
Concerns Expressed by Alumni -- We also are aware of recent concerns expressed by some AU alumni about the status of the athletics fields (now Jacobs Field) and if they may have been affected, due to the presence of the U.S. Army during World War I. This part of campus was one of the first that received dedicated attention to assess the safety of the parcel and possible effects on those who may have used it. We have reached out to the leaders of this group to understand their concerns and to offer information and resources. Among the essential information we will share is that working with health care authorities (Washington Occupational Health Associates) testing was done on students, physical plant workers, and former athletes to assess health ramifications from exposure (in particular, for elevated levels of arsenic ingestion). The tests indicated no elevated levels in those populations deemed of highest potential exposure. This finding concurs with two health studies conducted in the adjacent Spring Valley neighborhood by investigators from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in 2007 and again in 2013. The conclusions from the 2013 report state:
"[P]ersonal and community health status determined from survey reports and surveillance data were very good. Death rates for major causes were low and cancer incidence and mortality for selected cancers were mostly below U.S. rates …. Examination of air toxics data found that exposures and risks were similar and consistent with conditions in other U.S. urban areas .… Residents can be assured that community health is very good and most environmental indicators are in compliance with established standards or are similar to conditions in other urban areas.
Over the past 25 years, American University has been working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; the Environmental Protection Agency; the D.C. Department of Health; an independent environmental health scientist; and other partners to address these issues in a public process designed to ensure the health and safety of for both the AU campus and the surrounding community. In addition to AU materials and helpful links on our site, reports are publicly available at the Army Corps' repository site at the Tenleytown-Friendship Heights Library on Wisconsin Avenue. The Army Corps own website is a source of comprehensive information.
Going forward, we will update the university site with relevant information that might be helpful. In addition, questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.