The 13,000 residents of Spring Valley, an exclusive neighborhood in Washington, D.C. where homes are valued at up to one million dollars, have discovered that there are lethal World War I era chemicals buried underneath them.
From 1917 to 1919, 48 poisonous gases, including nerve gas and mustard gas, were tested in the area. The chemical weapons, along with old mortar shells, were first discovered in 1993.
Residents of Spring Valley include diplomats, lawyers, TV journalists and politicians. So far, 4 feet of topsoil have been removed from the yard of the South Korean ambassador’s home. A similar excavation was done on the campus of the American University. Elevated levels of arsenic have beenfound in various neighborhood sites. Residents are advised to wear gloves or masks when working in their yards and to avoid eating home grown fruits and vegetables.
In order to locate all the spots where dangerous chemicals may be lurking, millions of pages of records need to be examined. “We’re up to 11,000 now and still counting,” says Scott Saunders of the Army Corps of Engineers. “We spent about $50 million in 8 years [in clean up costs].”
At least 2 other sites in the D.C. area are on the corps list. What was once the Diamond Ordnance Fuze Laboratories is now the location of the University of the District of Columbia, as well as the embassies of Egypt and Austria. Another area, in not-so-affluent southwest D.C., was headquarters of theNational Guard for 54 years before 1958. A three-inch mortar shell was unearthed there during the construction of the Metro subway system.
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