Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Friday, July 28, 2017

Army Corps considers further digging at Pit 3 site

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering relocating its Engineered Control Structure to another location at the Pit 3 site at 4285 Glenbrook Road so they can investigate for other potential nearby munitions, said Dan Noble, project manager of the Army Corps' military munitions response program, at a Spring Valley community meeting Monday.

"We're hoping that by early March we'll be finished with the dig with the structure in its current location," Noble said. "We believe there's a possibility that there might be nearby munitions [...] that perhaps somehow scattered out of the pit or another smaller dumping area."

The ECS is a metal, aluminum-plated building placed on top of the dig site designed to absorb the blast of any weapons that explode during removal. It is currently set up adjacent to the property's concrete containing wall, according to documents available at the meeting.

Ed Hughes, program manager of the Army Corps' Baltimore district, said his team received an indication from geophysical and chemical testing that it needed to extend its search further alongside the road, as well as in the direction of campus.

Hughes said geophysical testing, which includes combing the premises with a metal detector, revealed numerous other "anomalies" within the university-owned property that had yet to be unearthed and examined.

This led the Corps to believe they have a lot of work ahead of them, he said.

Digging resumed Jan. 24 after a 75-mm chemical shell discovered months prior was found to contain high levels of arsine gas and explosives, The Eagle previously reported.

Hughes confirmed that three "anomalies" extracted from within the ECS turned out to be either munitions or munitions debris.

The items found at the Spring Valley site, which includes Pit 1 and Pit 2 at 4801 Glenbrook and the Pit 3 site, since digging recommenced Jan. 24 have included several pieces of laboratory glassware and a 55-gallon drum filled with concrete, Noble said.

Among the glassware at the site, diggers discovered liquid inside a small glass vial, they immediately sent it to a lab to be analyzed, Noble said. The results came back negative for volatile organic compounds, and archeologists concluded that the bottle was manufactured in 1916 for the Emerson Drug Company rather than World War I-related activities.

"In Pit 3, I'm a little surprised that a lot of what we found was made of metal," Noble said. "I would say that's like 98 percent of everything. For the most part it's been munitions or munitions debris."

Noble mentioned that the Corps has removed 549 barrels of soil from Pit 3 to date and has tested them for arsenic. He expects the Corps will excavate around 750 barrels before the Pit 3 investigation is complete.

On the adjacent property, which contains the AU president's residence, the Corps has completed 46 test pit investigations since Oct. 11, according to Hughes. "Test-pitting" consists of digging small holes to search for evidence of chemical weapons or munitions, Noble said. There are 77 test pits in all, leaving 31 the Corps still needs to examine.

"It's our goal to over-excavate the pit," Noble said. "We're hoping we're going to be able to get down to a situation where we're going to be in the pit [...] and what we're looking at is native, undisturbed soil"