WWI chemical weapons found in D.C. backyard

Munitions dig in Spring Valley neighborhood of Washington, D.C.It was farmland outside of Washington, D.C. when the Army first buried untold amounts of artillery and chemical weapons there, but what was once an out-of-the-way American University chemical warfare station is now the backyard of a house between the university president’s home and the residence of the South Korean ambassador.

The Army used the university to develop and test munitions during World War I. When the war ended, the Army buried the leftovers in pits and pretty much forgot about it until new homes started being built in the area in 1993.

Since then, the Army Corps of Engineers has done 4 major excavations. Until recently they thought they had found all that needed finding, so they removed an airtight protective structure only to find a whole new pile weapons they didn’t know was there.

The Corps discovered an open flask containing traces of the chemical agent mustard, another blistering agent called lewisite and munition shells with more digging near a one-time Army chemical warfare station at American University.

More recently, protective structures were rebuilt and digging continued. Workers found a larger jar with mustard, glassware that was smoking and fuming, scrap munitions and a shell containing a tear gas agent.

The Army Corps has removed more than 500 pounds of glassware and scrap metal and nearly 750 barrels of soil, some of it contaminated with chemical agents, said spokeswoman Joyce Conant.

“It’s a much larger disposal area than we predicted,” project manager Dan Noble told The Associated Press on Thursday. “The nature of debris is so different, perhaps it’s a different disposal area.”

It’s still federally owned property, which is good because the Army Corps of Engineers has a lot of work to do to secure and clean up the site. Meanwhile, neighbors are justifiably concerned that their drinking water may be contaminated, not to mention that their high property values might not be so high anymore.