Staff Editorial: Recent hospitalizations underscore Spring Valley’s munitions hazard

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Intensive cleanup has been underway for years at 4825 Glenbrook Road NW in Spring Valley. (Brian Kapur/The Current/August 2017)

After more than two decades of headlines about hazardous contamination in Spring Valley, it’s easy to become numbed to the Army Corps of Engineers’ slow cleanup process. But a recent incident serves as a reminder that dangers still lurk in the peaceful-looking community.

The neighborhood of Spring Valley was built in previously undeveloped woodlands, which the Army had used for testing chemical weapons during the World War I era. The Army Corps has been cleaning up the mess since 1993.

A key trouble spot is 4825 Glenbrook Road NW, located adjacent to the American University campus. There, the Army had to raze a home to fully excavate the property. Nearly five years after the demolition, the work remains incomplete.

Crews hand-dig contaminated soil at 4825 Glenbrook Road NW a day before seven workers were hospitalized Aug. 9 for possible chemical exposure. (photo courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

But lest there be any impatience, the need for the project’s methodical pace is perhaps clearer than ever. On Aug. 9, seven workers were hospitalized with symptoms of possible chemical exposure. They had been hand-digging 5 to 10 feet below the surface and had been wearing protective gloves, but were nonetheless treated for eye and skin irritation. The 4825 project has been paused while the Army investigates the incident and whether additional precautions are still needed.

Officials emphasize that there was never any risk to the public from this month’s possible exposure. But the fact remains that seven people needed hospitalization due to Spring Valley’s contamination. The Army’s extensive cleanup is essential to undoing the damage it did a century ago.