Chemical weapons not found

The Army Corps of Engineers found no chemical warfare agents during an excavation on campus this month, but results of soil tests for further arsenic contamination are pending and expected to reveal further arsenic contamination.

Between Jan. 8 and 11, engineers removed 55-gallon barrels of soil within a 55-meter radius of the excavation pit behind the Hamilton and Kreeger buildings. In total, 160 barrels were collected. The barrels have been taken to federal property behind Sibley Hospital where characterization tests will be taken to determine how to dispose of the soil.

This week, results of the excavation revealed that no mustard or Lucite agent or breakdown products found on the debris recovered.

"That's what our concern was," Plaisted said. "There may have been some chemical warfare that was in this laboratory glass."

Results on arsenic tests, however, are pending.

Plaisted said he feels that there may be elevated levels of arsenic not just in the excavation site behind the Hamilton and Kreeger buildings, but across the southern half of AU's campus.

"It's probably likely," Plaisted said.

To ascertain whether there is widespread arsenic contamination in the soil across the southern half of campus, the Army Corps divided up the area into 28 different units. Each area was divided into a quadrant. Soil samples from each of these quadrants have been taken and analyzed.

If no further contamination is found, engineers will begin removing fences and filling the excavation holes with clean soil. Four large water holding tanks in the Hamilton Parking Lot, containing water collected from a diverted stream, will be emptied into a sanitary sewer system.

"There has not been a problem with the water," Plaisted said. "We're putting water back into the sanitary sewer system."

Arsenic is a metal that is found in all kinds of soil. Preliminary testing around Spring Valley last month revealed levels between 3 and 18 parts per million. Environmental Protection Agency emergency guidelines call for removal when the levels reach over 43 ppm.

The Army Corps has created several risk assessments for various groups including students, staff and faculty, based on the amount of contact they may have had with the contaminated soil and how much arsenic there may be.

"Exposure to high quantities of arsenic can be a cause of skin problems," Plaisted said.

Other long-term health risks associated to arsenic exposure include liver related disorders. Plaisted said the amount of exposure necessary for such health complications are not typical for students.

"It's possible that if you work with the soil on the regular basis, there could be health risks," Plaisted said. "The next step would be to determine the risk assessment.

"Arsenic is a long term exposure problem," Plaisted said. Generally unless you're exposed to a great amount, you are not at risk."

For the duration of the Army Corp's excavation operations at the site, several offices have been relocated, including the front offices of Admissions, which have been relocated to the Ward building. A partition has been set up on the first floor lobby, and information sessions for prospective students are held in Ward 2.

Anna Pugliese, the associate director of Undergraduate Admissions, said the move was made out of concern for construction noise and dirt.

"With the trucks going back and forth, it is pretty loud and dirty, and we're trying to put on the best front we can," Pugliese said.

"One thing that has worked out for the better is that prospective students have been able to see students going to classes and moving about," Pugliese said.

Pugliese added she does not think the temporary Admissions offices are inconvenient and that information regarding the move has been sent to visiting students and their families.

The Admissions front office will return to the Hamilton building when the Army Corps completes its excavation.

"Our time schedule is tied to their time schedule," Pugliese said.

Never miss a story

Get our weekly newsletter delivered right to your inbox.

More from The Eagle