- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 6, 2009

COMMUNITY JOURNALISM:

The Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled to conclude its ordnance cleanup in the Spring Valley area next year, but experts urged residents to make certain the work is thorough.

Members of a panel that gathered last week expressed particular concern about the threat to the city’s drinking water supply because of high levels of perchlorate, which is used in explosives that were used around American University and Sibley Hospital and near the Delacarlia Reservoir.

The panel, which convened at a meeting of the Ward 3 Democratic Committee, examined challenges confronting the cleanup of chemical military pollution in Spring Valley and at more than 200 other sites across the country. Chemical weapons were found in Spring Valley in 1993 during construction of a residential development. The university was a World War I chemical weapons research and experimental station.

Jeffrey Kraskin, a 50-year Spring Valley resident and a member in 2001 of the Health Policy Council of the Spring Valley Scientific Advisory Panel, served as panel moderator.

“We thought at the time that the discovery of chemical weapons in 1993 was the first modern-day find of munitions in our community,” he said. “In reality, over the past 90 years, remnants of this amazing laboratory were known by our government and in the AU archives.”

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, has scheduled a public hearing on the cleanup for May 11 at the Wilson Building.

Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Ginny Durrin is working on a documentary of the Spring Valley cleanup, called “Bombs in Our Backyard.”

“The health issues need to be dealt with,” she said, adding that indoor air testing is needed.

The issue that triggered the most reaction by the nearly 100 residents at the meeting was the potential threat to the area’s water supply stemming from perchlorate that might be associated with still-buried chemical weapons.

Perchlorate is used in medicine to treat thyroid disorders, and it can be found in munitions, fireworks and air bags.

The corps said it installed 38 monitoring wells in 2005 and 2006 to help determine whether the groundwater is contaminated and where it is flowing.

“Sampling results identified elevated levels of perchlorate. Further investigation is under way with more wells and sampling planned in 2009,” the corps said on its Web site.

Erik Olson is a former deputy staff director for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and a specialist in public health and toxic substances.

“My concern is not the levels now, but where is the chemical coming from. Contamination appears to be moving slowly through the ground and eventually could be moving to the reservoir,” he said. “We need comprehensive monitoring of the groundwater, comprehensive cleanup and full disclosure. We also need aggressive monitoring of our tap water to be sure it is safe.”

An attempt by the Environmental Protection Agency to set national safety standards for perchlorate was derailed during the Bush administration. New EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, during her Senate confirmation hearings, committed to establishing new safety standards for perchlorate.

Harold Bailey, a Superfund lawyer who has represented U.S. municipalities, corporations and foreign governments dealing with the dangers of chemical, biological and conventional weapons testing and disposal, said: “What other states dealing with military pollution have learned is that they have to aggressively push the Army to be thorough and to commit the resources to do so. We need to learn from mistakes, not just play a blame game.”

Nan Wells, an advisory neighborhood commissioner representing part of the Spring Valley community, expressed concern that much of the information about the cleanup cannot be shared with the public because of national security reasons.

“We have not been able to get a complete list of munitions and chemical weapons that have been uncovered and that are now stored behind Sibley Hospital,” she said. “The information is restricted because of national security. So, you can store these things behind a hospital, near an assisted-living facility and near a residential community, but you can’t tell the community what is stored there because it is so dangerous. Sometimes, the logic is challenging. … We need the information to be public. We need to be able to report to the residents what is going on. As former President Ronald Reagan said, ‘Trust, but verify.’ That was a good motto then and it’s a good motto now for our community.”

• Thomas M. Smith, who lives in Ward 3 and is chairman of the Ward 3 Democratic Committee, runs his own communications marketing firm, Thomas M. Smith & Associates.

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