Initial Investigation (1993-1995)

On Jan. 5, 1993, while digging a utility trench in Spring Valley, a contractor unearthed buried military ordnance. The U.S. Army Technical Escort Unit initiated an emergency response. This response was completed on Feb. 2, 1993, and resulted in the removal of 141 ordnance items (43 suspect chemical items) from a past burial pit. On Feb. 3, 1993, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, began a remedial investigation of the site. Using historical documentation-reports, maps and photos, the Corps focused its investigation on specific sites that were determined to have the greatest potential for contamination. These sites were referred to as Points of Interest or POIs.
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During the extensive, two-year investigation that followed, geophysical surveys were done at POIs considered to be potential ordnance burial locations, plus a selection of approximately 10 percent of all properties outside of the POIs. These additional properties served as a check on the historical information that had been gathered. A total of 492 properties were surveyed. Most were surveyed with state-of-the-art electromagnetic device called an EM-31. This device was useful in identifying large metallic objects under the ground, such as ordnance burial pits. Some properties had a magnetometer survey performed due to the difficult terrain or other limiting conditions.

Investigation Results

More than 1,900 anomalies were identified. Anomalies are disturbances in the electromagnetic field that may be indicative of metal objects below the ground surface. A team of technical experts reviewed the geophysical data and recommended 840 anomalies for further study or removal.

Nearly all of the anomalies were determined to be metallic debris from property development, but one piece of ordnance, a spent Livens smoke round, was found. Two other ordnance rounds were anonymously left at the investigation office trailer. An additional 3-inch Stokes mortar round was discovered during the digging of a basement. This round was unarmed. Approximately 20 other pieces of ordnance scrap items were also found. All of these items were safely removed from the site. No additional burial pits were identified and no additional chemical warfare materiel was found. In addition to the geophysical investigations, a total of 260 soil samples were collected at 13 areas that included 17 POIs.

Samples were taken from randomly selected locations within each POI, as close as possible to the 1918 surface level. The samples were tested and analyzed by both the Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. No chemical agents, chemical warfare agent-unique breakdown products, explosives or explosive breakdown products were found in any of the samples taken. However, several metals were identified that exceeded the EPA's risk based screening criteria. These metals were included in a quantitative baseline risk assessment. This assessment found no elevated health risk requiring remedial action. Arsenic was not identified as a chemical of potential concern in the risk assessment since the sampling results were not significantly different from the background concentrations of arsenic.

These findings were documented in a Remedial Investigation Report in March 1995. This report was followed by a No Further Action Record of Decision in June 1995. In this decision, the Army took responsibility for any future actions required if additional munitions or contamination related to past military activities were discovered.


Follow Up Investigation

In 1996, the D.C. Health Department reported to EPA that they had uncovered new information regarding the Spring Valley site. In 1997, the D.C. Health Department provided the Corps of Engineers the results of their independent review of the site. The Corps of Engineers evaluated these results and published an evaluation report in January 1998.
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The Corps responded to each of the issues raised by the D.C. Health Department. During the review, the Corps of Engineers identified an error in the location of one POI, known as POI 24. It had been mis-located by about 150 feet. Also during this review, the Corps of Engineers verified that all the other POIs were properly located. Given the error of POI 24, the Corps conducted field investigations of this area located along Glenbrook Road. In 1998, a geophysical survey of the area identified two large metallic areas, which were indicative of possible burial pits below the ground surface. A plan was developed, and in March 1999, an intrusive investigation of this area located two large burial pits. A year later, the work was completed. More than 600 items were recovered, including 288 ordnance-related items. Of those items, 14 were evaluated to have chemical warfare agent, predominantly mustard agent. Following this work, the Corps of Engineers collected soil samples from the recovery site. Test results indicated elevated levels of arsenic were present in portions of the area. Following a comprehensive risk assessment, the Corps determined that the top 2 feet of soil in the affected areas should be removed and replaced with new soil. This work began in December 2000 and was completed a few months later.  The property was then restored.


Investigation Expanded

Soil Sampling and Cleanup - Based on the 1998 findings, it was determined in January 2000 that the area of investigation should be expanded. A plan was developed to conduct arsenic sampling on 61 private residences and the southern portion of American University. These areas are near the site of the disposal pits.
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Sampling was completed at 42 of the 61 properties. Eleven property owners would not grant permission, and attempts to reach eight others were unsuccessful. Based on the results of this sampling, nine properties and several lots on the American University campus were recommended for further detailed sampling. This sampling was completed in January 2001.

One of these locations involved the area around the American University Child Development Center. Given the sensitivity of this area, soil sampling around the center was expedited and the results provided to the university. The results identified arsenic levels higher than acceptable for a residential area. University officials relocated the Child Development Center to another area of the campus. Removal of the contaminated soil began in the summer of 2001. New soil was placed on the site, and restoration activities completed.

Following the discovery of elevated arsenic at the Child Development Center, the D.C. Health Department, EPA, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conducted an exposure study of the children attending the center. Study results did not indicate a health risk to the children.

At a public meeting in February 2001, the community turned out in large numbers to urge testing of the entire Spring Valley neighborhood. The Corps, in consultation with EPA and the D.C. Health Department, responded with a comprehensive soil sampling plan that proposed the sampling for arsenic on every property in Spring Valley (1,200 residential properties and 400 non-residential lots), with more intensive sampling in select areas. Sampling under this plan began May 31, 2001.

If a particular property was determined to have an elevated level of arsenic, then a more detailed grid sampling procedure was done. Following this sampling to identify areas of contamination, the results were evaluated to determine any elevated health risk. Working with EPA and D.C. Health Department, the Corps agreed upon a cleanup goal of 20 parts per million (ppm), and 140 properties were identified with one or more grids above 20 ppm of arsenic. 

Small Disposal Area

In January 2001, the Corps completed the cleanup of a small disposal area located adjacent to American University. During this work, the Corps removed approximately 44 cubic yards of soil, and some glass and metal debris. The soil and debris were tested, and no chemical warfare agent was found. Following confirmation samples of the excavated area, clean soil was placed and restoration of the site was completed.

American University

The Corps completed anomaly investigations at the university's intramural fields and the Child Development Center early in 2003. Most of the anomalies turned out to be buried utilities and general construction debris that date from the mid-1900s. No chemical warfare agent was found. Arsenic-contaminated soil removal was completed and the areas were restored.

Sedgwick Trench

The investigation of 31 anomalies at two properties in the 5000 block of Sedgwick Street was completed in 2002. A trench system used by military personnel to test and explode munitions was once situated in this area. Three munitions fragments and several pieces of metal construction debris were removed. No intact munitions or laboratory-related materials were found. Air sampling did not detect chemical agent or agent breakdown products.

Lot 18

The Lot 18 debris field is located on the southwestern edge of the American University campus and behind properties on Rockwood Parkway. In this area, the Corps discovered a debris area that contained domestic trash, lab glassware and inert munitions debris. Excavation in this area started in 2002 and continued into 2003. In mid-2003, work was stopped temporarily at Lot 18 when a bottle was identified as containing a small amount of lewisite (0.3 percent). During that time the Corps focused its efforts on other areas of the project.

The discovery of the lewisite changed the low probability dig to a high probability dig.   The Corps re-evaluated its site safety and work plans at Lot 18, and returned to the site in 2004 with extensive safety measures in place. The dig continued under a pressurized and sealed tent with redundant filtration systems and air monitoring. The workers wore Level B protective gear and were monitored by closed circuit TV from an operations center.

At the end of September 2004, 474, 55-gallon drums of soil had been excavated and about 890 items recovered. Seven items required further analysis. All of the other items were "scrap." Fewer than 30 of these were ordnance-related scrap, such as expended fuzes, empty projectile casings and broken pieces of munitions. Other types of items included empty or broken test tubes and bottles, broken glassware and ceramic pieces, construction debris like pipes and bricks, battery components, and horseshoes.

Work began Nov. 15, 2005, with a larger sifting table and more workers to increase production. Workers recovered 18 suspect items amid the usual debris - 15 sealed glass bottles and three ordnance related items. Breakdown products of mustard, a chemical warfare agent, were identified during analysis of the liquid in one of the recovered bottles. Both chemicals, dithiane and thioxane, were found in low quantities and concentrations. Both have a low toxicity and would not cause adverse effects to someone exposed to the chemicals, experts said.

The site specific work plan for the Lot 18 investigation was further refined in fiscal year 2006 and incorporated the use of a much larger engineering control structure, additional chemical agent filtration systems and a larger excavator. In addition, the method of sifting soil was revised from manually sifting to mechanical sifting, with the use of a mechanical sifting table and conveyor system. The sifted soil was transferred on the conveyor system into a covered roll off dumpster, greatly increasing the efficiency of the operation. At the completion of the investigation on Jan. 22, 2006, a total of 5,500 cubic yards of soil had been removed, 117 munitions debris items, six intact munitions items and 31 intact containers. No munitions items were determined to be explosively or chemically configured. One intact container was determined to contain chemical warfare agents and three contained agent breakdown products (ABPs). Intact container SVS-06-035, unearthed on Jan. 9, 2006, contained 0.28 ppm of mustard. This was the only chemical warfare materiel detected during the Lot 18 high probability investigation. The mustard detected was extremely small - .18 ppm above the PQL, which is the concentration that can be reliably measured within specific laboratory limits.

Testing for remaining chemical contamination was conducted at Lot 18. Results from the testing were incorporated into a work plan.  The Corps excavated the areas of elevated chemical soil that exceed target levels. The excavation, backfilling and restoration of Lot 18 were completed in summer 2006.

The investigation of six anomalous areas and 74 single point anomalies surrounding Lot 18 was completed in fiscal 2006. These areas were investigated under a low probability work plan. A total of eight munitions debris items and two intact containers were recovered during this investigation. Also, a large amount of debris and broken glassware were recovered from the areas. All were cleared for chemical warfare agent. Since the debris in one of the six areas extended toward the American University’s Public Safety Building, a separate work plan was developed to address this area. This work at the Public Safety Building began in summer 2008 and is now finished.

A low probability investigation was conducted in summer 2006 at one additional area surrounding Lot 18 that was identified as the Kreeger Hall Roadway investigation. Seventeen single point and two test trenches were investigated in this area. Four properties along Rockwood Parkway were also investigated in summer 2006. A total of 84 single point anomalies on these four properties were investigated.

Spaulding/Captain Rankin Area

In 2003, about 240 anomalies were excavated and field cleared in the area known as the Spaulding/Captain Rankin Area, a small strip of land on American University and on properties along Woodway Lane. A few scrap fragments of munitions were found but no intact munitions.


Other Work

Health Studies - The Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry's (ATSDR) conducted an exposure study of children attending the AU Child Development Center in February 2001. None of the children had indicators suggestive of unusual exposure to arsenic.
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ATSDR conducted two arsenic exposure investigations in 2002.  Neither investigation found arsenic concentrations expected to cause health problems.  In addition, ATSDR conducted a Public Health Evaluation for Spring Valley in 2005. The study indicated that, excluding burial pits and disposal areas, contamination in Spring Valley related to the past military activities did not present a public health hazard.  View the report here.

In 2011, the Corps of Engineers requested ATSDR to prepare a Health Consultation to possible contamination exposure for the workers and residents at 4825 Glenbrook Road. That report was completed in 2016 and is available here

Starting in March 2006, the District of Columbia initiated and funded health researchers with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to conduct a health scoping study for the Spring Valley project area under contract with the Washington DC Department of Health. The general finding of that study was that the overall health of Spring Valley residents is very good. View the report here. 

In 2011, the D.C. Department of the Environment contracted with Johns Hopkins University to conduct a follow-on health study in Spring Valley.  You can read more about that effort on the Johns Hopkins site by clicking here.  

Sub-Slab Soil Gas

Sub-slab soil gas sampling was performed at two Rockwood Parkway properties owned by American University. The data indicated that the properties are not impacted with any WWI-related contamination.



The Spring Valley Formerly Used Defense Site is extremely complex and presents many challenges. Despite these challenges, the Corps of Engineers and its partners remain committed to implementing a thorough and complete clean-up, with the safety of the surrounding neighborhood, university community, and site workers as the number one priority.