Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Sunday, May 26, 2019

AU considers tearing down house to make way for munitions investigation

The AU-owned house at 4825 Glenbrook Rd. might be torn down to make way for a broader investigation of the chemical munitions burial pit at the property, according to David Taylor, AU President Neil Kerwin's chief of staff.

The property sits adjacent to the president’s residence at 4835 Glenbrook Road.

At a public meeting with Spring Valley residents in July, Taylor and Jorge Abud, AU’s assistant vice president of Facilities, said that AU would allow the house to be torn down if the Army Corps of Engineers recommended it, according to Tom Smith, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member who attended the meeting.

However, the step of making the final decision about what to do with the house is “very far ahead of where things currently are,” Taylor said.

Late July the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it is beginning a “comprehensive assessment” how to safely complete its excavation of Pit 3, according to a Corps’ press release. The review is expected to last several months.

AU is waiting until after the Army Corps of Engineers finishes its review to make a final decision, according to Taylor.

“We rely on the … advice of the environmental and health specialists who assess the Corps’ work … if the science supports the removal of the house, then we would not object,” Taylor said.

AU also announced that it has been conducting periodic air monitoring at the president’s residence.

Many of the chemicals in the soil at Pit 3 react with the air to give off gas and toxic fumes, according to the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency.

AU reported that the air quality at the president’s residence was normal.

Some members of the community are upset because AU had not told the Army Corps of Engineers or Spring Valley residents that it was conducting air quality tests at the president’s residence, according to Smith.

“I was somewhat stunned … because air monitoring is a very sensitive issue in the neighborhood. Some residents have pushed the Army to conduct air monitoring in their homes, and the Army has refused,” Smith wrote in an e-mail.

Taylor and Abud claim there was nothing unusual about air monitoring tests at the president’s house.

“From time to time we have done testing on buildings near Army remediation sites, to assure ourselves that those facilities are safe,” Abud said.

Work at Pit 3 began in 2007. The investigation was suspended in March after workers discovered several smoking jugs containing arsenic trichloride and other chemical agents, The Eagle previously reported.

To date Pit 3 excavations have yielded 238 barrels of contaminated soil and 500 pounds of “laboratory glassware,” containing various chemical agents, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Army Corps of Engineers expects to complete its Pit 3 excavation sometime next year, according to Joyce Conant, an Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson.

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