Army to check for munitions evidence below AU president’s official residence

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The American University president's official residence at 4835 Glenbrook Road NW sits next to a major cleanup site at 4825. (Brian Kapur/The Current/August 2017)

The Army Corps of Engineers plans to drill 12 to 15 holes in the basement of 4835 Glenbrook Road NW, after environmental remediation workers suffered apparent chemical exposure along the Spring Valley home’s property line.

The property — the currently vacant official residence for American University’s president — adjoins the neighborhood’s most infamous address: 4825 Glenbrook, where the Army’s cleanup efforts have included razing a home and excavating down to bedrock.

The news came at the Sept. 12 meeting of the Restoration Advisory Board, a body that oversees the Army’s cleanup of World War I-era munitions and chemical contamination in Spring Valley and the American University campus. “We didn’t see any of this previously,” the Army’s Brenda Barber said at the meeting.

Barber said the Army doesn’t expect to demolish 4835 Glenbrook, but officials added that the possibility exists if the investigation uncovers dangerous chemicals below the home. “If there are chemical agents under the house, we’re not going to leave them there,” the Army’s Dan Noble said.

Sylvia Burwell, the new American University president, had originally planned to move into the property but now will not.

Christine Dieterich, who lives across the street at 4830 Glenbrook, blasted the cleanup leadership for saying previously there were no problems at 4835. During the major cleanup of 4825, she took her two small children to live in a nearby rental apartment to ensure their safety.

“You tell me my kids are safe,” she said at the meeting, which she attended with her attorney. “You don’t have a clue.”

Barber answered that the Army had ample information to say the area was safe, but is now undertaking a new review. Earlier extensive tests described during the meeting had not shown any dangers involving the house itself at 4835, she said. “We can’t plan for zero risk,” said Barber.

At the meeting, Army officials also discussed the possible exposure suffered by cleanup workers on Aug. 9. Officials said a team experienced eye irritation digging near the property line between 4825 and 4835, which is close to the basement of 4835. When a second group suffered similar irritation the Army halted the excavation. The workers were taken to the hospital, but their symptoms ended within less than an hour of the excavation, officials said.

The Army has not yet found a substance that could have been responsible for the injuries to the workers, officials said. A board of investigation has interviewed the workers and their medical personnel, and is reviewing all project data of the day of the incident as well as the project’s work plans, procedures and safety protocols. A report is due by the end of October.

Several residents active on the Spring Valley cleanup issue have pointed to comments by construction workers who built 4825 and 4835 Glenbrook in the early 1990s. Some workers said in 2013 that both houses were built atop hazardous materials, but Noble said that information contradicts workers’ 1990s accounts and that he had more confidence in the more contemporaneous recollections.