Former DC military toxic waste site on the market for nearly $1.3 million

An empty lot that once served as a military weapons testing dumping ground from World War I was recently placed on the market for nearly $1.3 million. The lot is located in the pristine Spring Valley neighborhood of Northwest D.C., in American University’s backyard. 

A realtor for the lot, which is also located right next to the American University president’s residence, called it, "probably the cleanest ground in town right now" in a Washingtonian interview. 

That’s because it took the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) around two decades to properly clean the site of its chemical warfare toxins. 

"Some of the materials we were handling was very hazardous and it was very serious and we had a lot of safety procedures and protocols in place to make sure that everything went safely as we recovered that material," said Dan Noble, USACE Project Manager for the former defense site in Spring Valley. 

Noble helped lead the massive clean-up effort.

He explained that during World War I, American University set up an American University experiment station where scientists and soldiers were developing weapons for chemical warfare. When the war ended, those items were dumped and buried in the surrounding area.

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A previous FOX 5 report said the findings included an uncapped glass bottle that contained remnants of mustard gas inside. FOX 5’s Melanie Alnwick won an Emmy for her coverage of the toxic site clean-up and the impact it had on several Northwest D.C. residents in the early 2000s. 

Her reporting showed that the military members responsible for discarding the toxic waste referred to the area as "Death Valley" and called a certain pit near what is now Glenbrook Road, "Hades."

When the Glenbrook Rd. property clean-up was completed, the USACOE said it recovered or remediated: 

  • 556 munition items (23 of them filled with chemical agents)
  • 2,139 pounds of laboratory debris
  • 53 intact and sealed glass containers of chemical agent
  • 7,500 tons of contaminated soil, all close to occupied private properties, a major university campus, and public streets

The realtor company involved would not say how many offers they received on the land, but the lot shows as "Contingent" online, which means they got at least one solid bid. A neighbor welcomed the news. 

"It was a dreadful seven years for us because we had little kids, and the idea of having my kids playing in the front yard while they are excavating chemical warfare was not exactly my idea of keeping kids safe," Christine Dietrich said. Dietrich told FOX 5 she’d gladly take another year of home construction vs. more site excavation.

FOX 5 asked Noble if he would live on the property now.

"Yeah, sure," he said, "If I lived in the D.C. area, it’s a beautiful area. But yeah, my involvement is professional. I’m not looking to move to the District."

He also told FOX 5 the USACOE was awarded for their work on Glenbrook Rd. lot last year. The clean-up project finished in November 2021. 

"I very much stand by what our closure report says, which is that we achieved our remedial action objectives and by doing that, yes, this property has unrestricted future use," Noble said. "And if that use is to put a residence on it and for someone to move in. I mean that’s what unrestricted use means."

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Patrick M. Regan represented a family who lived inside the home that once sat on the Glenbrook Rd. lot. The home was torn down to fully begin the lot clean-up. 

Regan told FOX 5 the family became very sick living inside the home and sued.

"There’s no way that they were able to get all the munition out of the entire area. The house next door, immediately to the left, hasn’t been taken down. There were munitions throughout the entire street and so it’s shocking," Regan said. 

He is furious someone may purchase the lot to build another home. Regan believes it should remain a park. 

Regan also told FOX 5 they ended up settling their lawsuit. 

The Army Corps of Engineers told FOX 5 that if there was an area of concern, the homeowner should’ve gotten a call from them by now. The original site the USACE was investigating is 650 acres. 

Noble said the Glenbrook area had the greatest concentration of toxic material left behind by the soldiers from WWI.  

For more information on the toxic waste removal efforts visit the websites below: 

https://www.nab.usace.army.mil/Media/News-Releases/Article/2852793/army-corps-marks-completion-of-remediation-restoration-efforts-at-former-wwi-ch/

https://www.denix.osd.mil/awards/2022secdef/environmental-restoration-individual-team/glenbrook-road-remedial-action-team-u-s-army-corps-of-engineers-north-atlantic-division-maryland/2%20Nomination%20Narrative%20Army%20ER-IT%20SV%20Glenbrook%20Road%20RA_508C.pdf