Letter to the Editor: Army shouldn’t minimize munitions cleanup on Glenbrook Road

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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)

I’m grateful for The Current’s tenacious coverage of the Army Corps’ ongoing 24-year cleanup of World War I-era munitions and chemical contamination in Northwest Washington. Your Sept. 27 article — “Spring Valley munitions cleanup to scrutinize AU president’s house” — was a typically concise and accurate report on the Army’s recent decision to look again at the vacant 4835 Glenbrook Road NW home (a controversial location, which officials previously insisted did not constitute a health threat to the community). It took the hospitalization of seven of its own cleanup crew members after exposure to chemical agent on Aug. 9 before the Army finally reconsidered its premature closeout of the investigation there [“Glenbrook Road munitions cleanup paused after workers hospitalized,” Aug. 16, The Current].

I take exception to project manager Dan Noble casting doubt on construction workers’ recent statements — that 4835 Glenbrook (the American University president’s house) was built atop hazardous materials — by claiming that the worker’s comments in the 1990s about 4825 Glenbrook (the adjoining property) were more accurate. I speak as the filmmaker who provided transcripts to the Army Corps, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the D.C. Department of Energy & Environment from two decades of my interviews with these workers.

Yes, the workers referred to 4825 in my original interview with them in the 1990s, but that was only because they were being asked about possible burials on that property. Back then we were looking at a diagram focused on 4825 Glenbrook, not 4835. The workers only began talking about 4835 in 2012 upon learning, to their horror, that the Army didn’t demolish that house when tearing down 4825. The workers said there was just as much chemical warfare materiel at 4835 as there was at 4825.

Finally, at the May 2016 and May 2017 meetings of the Spring Valley Restoration Advisory Board, these same workers drove from their homes in West Virginia to speak out publicly with courage and conviction concerning their eyewitness observations of chemical warfare materiel buried under the concrete beneath 4835 Glenbrook Road. Yet the Army Corps keeps trying to minimize or deny the eyewitness testimony of the real heroes of Spring Valley.

The dozen or so test pits, which the Army now intends to drill along the basement wall of 4835 Glenbrook’s perimeter, are a good start. But more thorough testing throughout the basement, crawl space and garage of 4835 is needed to truly investigate these persistent memories of coverup.

Ginny Durrin, Filmmaker, “Bombs in Our Backyard,” former Spring Valley resident (1974-2017)