2007 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lennysiegel@gmail.com>
Date: 1 Nov 2007 00:04:35 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: Re: [CPEO-MEF] Spring Valley (DC) burial pit
From Kent Slowinski <wksla@aol.com>

The figures in the Washington Post October 30 article ("Army Digging to Recover Old Gas Shells") on Spring Valley's Pit 3 are incorrect.

The 3 arsine filled shells and dozen or so mustard agent-filled shells were actually recovered from Pit 3 in 2001-2002. During that period, the Army Corps recovered 427 ordnance items and 104 glassware items from Pit 3. Approximately 10 percent of the munitions were chemical-filled. The Army Corps misidentified the contents of three of the shells as vomit agent. It was later determined to be the more toxic arsine, for which there is no antidote.

The Johns Hopkins University Spring Valley scoping study found that "the available scientific literature on the health effects of chemicals (including some chemical weapon breakdown products) sampled for in Spring Valley is consistent with some anecdotally reported health outcomes in the community, such as cancers, blood disorders, neurological and skin conditions."

It is interesting that the Army Corps refers to Pit 3 as "the last known burial pit."

They still haven't found the chemical burial pit, captured in a photograph by Sergeant Mauer showing the burial of more than a dozen ceramic carboys filled with 3 to 5 gallons of lewisite, the most toxic arsenical developed at the American University Experimental Station. Some people think the burial might be under one of the houses and the house might have to be torn down.

They still haven't found the explosives burial pit, referred to in the American University newspaper as containing $850,000 worth of explosives. The former Army Corps Spring Valley project manager, who has filed a whistle blower lawsuit, referred to Pit 3 as "a potentially explosive situation."

Why haven't they found the other burial pits?

Perhaps it's because the Army Corps isn't digging deep enough. The recovered munitions from Pit 3 are known to be 12-15 feet below ground. Exploratory test pits were dug only 6 feet deep on the 4825 Glenbrook Road property. The Army Corps plans to dig only 12 feet deep on the adjacent 4835 Glenbrook Road property. It stands to reason, that if the Army Corps were to dig a little deeper, they might find something.

Perhaps it's because the Army Corps isn't using the right technology. They aren't using technologies that detect ceramic carboys, such as ground penetrating radar or Shearwave.

Perhaps it's because the Army Corps hasn't done a thorough research of the historical American University Experimental Station files. In 2001, the Army Corps thought the 4,000 pounds of AUES files were lost. The files turned up in a locked vault at the Army Chemical School in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. A team of Spring Valley researchers spent a week or two looking at more than 2,000 photos, but barely touched the files. In 1995, the Army canceled an accession order transferring the AUES files to the National Archives, stating the historical documents where "in daily use" on the Spring Valley project. It took Sergeant Randy Cook more than 6 months of research just to compile a list of what AUES chemicals were used and where they were used. Why aren't we using the historical AUES files today?

What concerns me the most is that the Huntsville munition expert's notes on sympathetic detonation do not appear to take into account that the Pit 3 munitions have been buried for nearly 90 years. A report from the Aberdeen munitions experts indicates a buried 75 mm shell will corrode through its thinnest point in less than 30 years. In addition, some of the recovered munitions were explosively configured. Explosives become more unstable with age. All of this increases the possibility of sympathetic detonation of the entire stack of buried munitions.

The Army Corps stated "No Further Action Required" on the Spring Valley cleanup back in 1996. Since then, more than 800 munitions and 600 bottles and pieces of laboratory glassware have been recovered, many containing chemical warfare agent.

Unfortunately, the Army Corps has taken action to discredit and remove people from the Spring Valley cleanup project who have done the most to uncover contamination, burials, and areas requiring further investigation.

The Army Corps just might be able to get out of Spring Valley again without doing a thorough investigation and clean up.

Kent Slowinski, former member
Spring Valley Restoration Advisory Board

Lenny Siegel wrote:
Army Digging To Recover Old Gas Shells

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post (DC)
October 30, 2007

Operating under tight safety restrictions, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers yesterday began excavating what it calls the "last known burial pit" of World War I chemical munitions in Northwest Washington's Spring Valley neighborhood.

The Army expects to excavate at least fifteen 75mm artillery rounds -- a dozen or more with mustard gas and three with arsine, both toxic chemical agents -- buried in the affluent residential neighborhood that was once a site for developing and testing chemical weapons.

To protect the neighborhood from an accidental release of gases, the Army has erected a large metal containment structure over the pit in the 4800 block of Glenbrook Road, next to an unoccupied home behind American University.


For the entire article, see


Lenny Siegel
Executive Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
a project of the Pacific Studies Center
278-A Hope St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/961-8918

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