Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Munitions to be destroyed Thursday near Sibley Hospital

The Army Corps of Engineers plans to destroy five chemical munitions today in its Explosive Destruction System behind Sibley Hospital.

The system has been used before at the Spring Valley federal property; in 2003, 15 munitions were successfully neutralized there, according to Todd Beckwith, the Corps’ Spring Valley project manager.

While the destruction process is dependent on favorable weather conditions, it is scheduled to run from today until April 23. The Corps is also planning to neutralize 20 liquid-filled items that do not contain chemical agents with the EDS by May 5, Beckwith said.

At a City Council hearing on March 29, the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency committed to implementing additional public protection measures for the destruction operations, according to Beckwith.

On April 10, HSEMA and the Corps’ outreach teams partnered to inform nearby residents their public safety plan was in place, which included instructions for shelter-in-place precautions. They distributed the plan to 19 nearby residences, according to Beckwith.

They spoke with and provided information to 12 residents and left materials and contact information at the remaining seven residences.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said she was impressed with the safety measures when she was given a tour of the EDS site on April 13, according to Beckwith.

The Corps’ destruction plan has been approved by all necessary agencies except the District Department of the Environment, which is waiting for the HSEMA to establish a public protection plan.

“[The DDOE] would not sign off on the EDS until a public protection plan was done. The public protection plan has not been done yet - that’s the only reason,” said James Sweeney, DDOE’s representative on the Spring Valley Restoration Advisory Board. “Once the public protection plan is done and we are satisfied with it, we will sign off on the EDS.”

The Corps can still neutralize the munitions without DDOE’s approval.

Beckwith said it is HSEMA’s responsibility to ensure that residents are aware of the warning siren so they are aware if something goes wrong. Only the residents that are within the established safety boundary would need to be notified, he said.

HSEMA is also supposed to install a car-mounted siren that will notify residents if something goes awry, in which case residents are advised to remain indoors, close all windows and doors and shut off air conditioning.

Maya Courtney, a member of the Corps’ community outreach team for its Baltimore District, said a part of HSEMA’s job is to ask residents to sign up for e-mail, text and phone alerts. AU residents will be alerted via text if there is an emergency.

The EDS has been used to destroy over 1,700 chemical munitions across the country without incident.

“We designed our destruction plan ... so we wouldn’t have to implement a safety plan outside of federal property,” Beckwith said.

One RAB member described the destruction process and the EDS as “basically a big fancy can opener.” He said workers are essentially splitting open a munition and washing out what is inside and neutralizing it.

He said he was skeptical going into a recent tour given to RAB members of the EDS structure but left convinced that the procedure will be safe.

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