Page images
PDF
EPUB

SPRING VALLEY-TOXIC WASTE CONTAMINATION IN THE NATION'S CAPITAL

FRIDAY, JULY 27, 2001

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
SUBCOMMITTEE ON THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA,
COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT REFORM,

Washington, DC. The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:03 a.m., in room 2154, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Constance A. Morella (chairwoman of the subcommittee) presiding.

Present: Representatives Morella, Platts, Norton, and Watson.

Staff present: Russell Smith, staff director; Heea Vazirani-Fales, deputy staff director; Robert White, communications director; Matthew Batt, legislative assistant; Shalley Kim, staff assistant; Howard Dennis, professional staff for representative davis; Jon Bouker, minority counsel; and Jean Gosa, minority assistant clerk.

Mrs. MORELLA. Good morning. I'm going to call to order the Subcommittee on the District of Columbia for its hearing on toxic waste contamination in the Nation's Capital.

It is a pleasure to welcome you all, witnesses and interested parties, to the sixth hearing of the Subcommittee on the District of Columbia in this 107th Congress.

I want to recognize members of the subcommittee. We have, of course, the ranking member, who has been so valuable, the foundation of this subcommittee, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. Later we expect that we will have Mr. Platts of Pennsylvania, who will be joining us, and probably Mr. Tom Davis of Virginia. And we have a new member from California, Congresswoman Diane Watson, who replaced Julian Dixon, who was somebody who served very valiantly on the District of Columbia Subcommittee.

I want to make special mention of our witnesses. They're here because of their expertise and knowledge regarding the identification or remediation of contaminated sites in Spring Valley, or they are here because they have been affected in some way by the burial of those dangerous chemical weapons. There are many others who fall into the latter category. I regret that we can't hear from all of them. If, however, there are some who want to submit testimony, the record will be open for 5 legislative days.

I want to remind witnesses that the rules of the Committee on Government Reform require that all witnesses be administered an oath prior to testifying, and I want to encourage our opening statements, because of the number of people that we have testifying in this important hearing, ask them if they would kindly confine their statements to 5 minutes or so and that their entire statements will

(1)

be placed into the record. That will give us more opportunity for dialog with the witnesses.

The entire prepared statements will be in the record. We'll hold the record, again, for 5 legislative days.

Now I'd like to make some opening comments. In 1918, shortly after the United States entered World War I, the U.S. Army accomplished a chemical weapons testing station in upper Northwest D.C. In a neighborhood now known as Spring Valley. The Army leased the land from the American University and nine other property owners.

The American University experimental station soon became the world's second largest chemical weapons facility, behind only a similar outpost in Aberdeen, MD. At its peak, 1,900 military and civilian employees worked there, and untold numbers of experimental chemical weapons were exploded over its hundreds of acres.

More than 80 years later, we're still struggling to determine the precise extent of the environmental and possibly human damage caused by the Army at its American University facility. Despite several cleanup efforts and more than one declaration that the area was safe, the Army Corps of Engineers is still locating buried munitions and discovering worrisome levels of arsenic and other chemicals in the soil. Residents with serious illnesses are left wondering if prolonged exposure to these chemicals is to blame. Parents are worried their young children might be the next ones to turn up sick.

The background of this case, including some aspects that are just now becoming known publicly, is long and complicated, but the important points are this: The U.S. Army twice examined the Spring Valley area, once in 1986 at the request of American University, and once beginning in 1993 after munitions were found by a construction crew. The first time, it decided against substantial evidence suggesting otherwise that archival materials did not support further investigation. It was seemingly joined in this conclusion by American University.

The second time the Army Corps of Engineers spent 2 years identifying and removing munitions and conducting soil samples. It ultimately declared the area safe, only to be proved wrong after the D.C. Government challenged its findings. The result, of course, is that for the past 2 years, the Corps has been back at Spring Valley extracting chemical weapons and performing more soil tests.

This shouldn't be taken to suggest that the U.S. Army is the only party at fault. While we are still learning all the facts, it's apparent that at best, the Army, American University, the Environmental Protection Agency and the District government and perhaps others may have failed to take aggressive action to learn the true nature of buried munitions at Spring Valley. At worst, there was a conspiracy of silence that jeopardized public health, threatened the houses of hundreds of families and eroded people's trust in government.

This situation raises many troubling questions, and among them, do we have a feasible plan for righting the wrongs at Spring Valley? Is it proper for the Army Corps to remain in charge of this cleanup operation, or is some kind of independent oversight warranted? And are there other Spring Valleys throughout lurking beneath the surface of our Nation's Capital or some other unsuspecting community?

Today's hearing will focus on many different aspects of the Spring Valley situation, but our goal is simple. We want answers, accountability and action. We want answers from the Army Corps of Engineers, from the Environmental Protection Agency, from American University, from anyone who knew or should have known of the dangerous chemicals that lay just below the Earth's surface.

Why did it take so long for this hazard to come to light? How could it have been prevented or the risk to human health at least mitigated? We demand accountability.

I find it difficult to believe that once the AU testing station closed in or about 1921, no one in a position of power gave it a second thought, and after a few years, no one, we've been told, even remembered that chemical weapons testing had been conducted there. This is quite amazing, given that American University later hosted military operations during World War II, and according to documents that my staff collected, the university discovered an unexploded bomb on its campus back in 1953 or 1954 during construction of its TV tower. Despite that, it's at least evident that the Army, the American University, the EPA and others had a good idea of the magnitude of the contamination no later than 1986, following the university's research of the public archives, and yet nothing was done.

These are the answers we seek.

Finally, we require action. The Army Corps, working with the city, the residents and other parties, has pledged to test every property in Spring Valley, all 1,200 of them, for arsenic and other chemicals and then followup with necessary remediation. This subcommittee is very interested to hear how this process is progressing; and from the preliminary information that we have, however, I must say I'm not happy with the pace of this testing. It needed to be done yesterday.

I want to conclude with a question posed by a Spring Valley resident named Ed Stephens: "When will we ever be sure this place is totally clear of munitions?” Unfortunately, as of today, July 27, 2001, the U.S. Government does not have an answer for him. It is especially unfortunate, because Mr. Stephens asked this question, according to a Washington Post article, on January 6, 1993, 1 day after he and 24 other families were forced to evacuate their homes because munitions were found nearby. And after all this time, the people of Spring Valley deserve an answer.

I shall now recognize the distinguished ranking member of the subcommittee, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, for her opening statement.

[The prepared statement of Hon. Constance A. Morella follows:]

[blocks in formation]

In 1918, shortly after the U.S. entered World War I, the U.S. Army established a chemical weapons testing station in upper Northwest D.C., in a neighborhood now known as Spring Valley. The Army leased the land from American University and nine other property owners.

The American University Experimental Station soon became the world's second-largest chemical weapons facility, behind only a similar outpost in Aberdeen, Maryland. At its peak, 1,900 military and civilian employees worked there, and untold numbers of experimental chemical weapons were exploded over its hundreds of acres.

More than 80 years later, we are still struggling to determine the precise extent of the environmental – and possibly human - damage caused by the Army at its American University facility. Despite several clean-up efforts, and more than one declaration that the arca was safe, the Army Corps of Engineers is still locating buried munitions and discovering worrisome levels of arsenic and other chemicals in the soil. Residents with serious illnesses are left wondering if prolonged exposure to these chemicals is to blame. Parents are worried their young children might be next ones to turn up sick.

The background of this case, including some aspects that are just now becoming known publicly, is long and complicated. But the important points are this:

The U.S. Army twice examined the Spring Valley area, once in 1986 at the request of American University, and once beginning in 1993 after munitions were found by a construction crew. The first time, it decided – against substantial evidence suggesting otherwise – that archival materials did not support further investigation. It was seemingly joined in this conclusion by American University.

The second time, the Army Corps of Engineers spent two years identifying and removing munitions and conducting soil samples. It ultimately declared the area safe – only to be proved wrong after the D.C. government challenged its findings. The result, of course, is that for the past two years, the Corps has been back at Spring Valley, extracting chemical weapons and performing more soil tests.

This should not be taken to suggest that the U.S. Army is the only party at fault. While we are still learning all the facts, it appears that – at best -- the Army, American University, the Environmental Protection Agency, the District government and perhaps others, failed to take aggressive action to learn the true nature of buried munitions at Spring Valley.

At worst, there was a conspiracy of silence that jeopardized public health, threatened the houses of hundreds of families, and eroded people's trust in government.

This situation raises many troubling questions, among them: Do we have a feasible plan for righting the wrongs at Spring Valley? Is it proper for the Army Corps to remain in charge of this clean-up operation, or is some kind of independent oversight warranted? And, are there any other Spring Valleys out there, lurking beneath the surface of our nation's capital or some other unsuspecting community?

Today's hearing will focus on many different aspects of the Spring Valley situation, but our goal is simple: We want Answers, Accountability and Action.

We want answers – from the Army Corps of Engineers; from the Environmental Protection Agency, from American University; from anyone who knew or should have known of the dangerous chemicals that lay just below the Earth's surface. Why did it take so long for this hazard to come to light? How could it have been prevented, or the risk to human health at least mitigated?

We demand accountability. I find it difficult to believe that once the A.U. testing station closed, in or about 1921, no one in a position of power gave it a second thought. After a few years, no one, we have been told, even remembered that chemical weapons testing had been conducted there.

This is quite amazing, given that American University later hosted military operations during World War II, and, according to documents my staff collected, the University discovered an unexploded bomb on its campus back in 1953 or 1954, during construction of its TV tower.

Despite that, it is at least evident that the Army, American University, the EPA and others had a good idea of the magnitude of the contamination no later than 1986, following the University's research of the public archives. And yet, nothing was done. This must be answered for.

Finally, we require action. The Army Corps, working with the city, the residents and other parties, has pledged to test every property in Spring Valley - all 1,200 of them - for arsenic and other chemicals, and then follow up with necessary remediation. This subcommittee is very interested to hear how this process is progressing. From the preliminary information I have, however, I must say I am not happy with the pace of this testing. It needed to be done yesterday.

I want to conclude with a question posed by a Spring Valley resident named Ed Stephens: “When will we ever be sure this place is totally clear of munitions?" be asked.

[ocr errors]

Unfortunately, as of today -- July 27, 2001 - the U.S. government does not have answer for him. It is especially unfortunate because Mr. Stevens asked this question, according to a Washington Post article, on January 6, 1993, one day after he and 24 other families were forced to evacuate their homes because munitions were found nearby.

After all this time, the people of Spring Valley deserve an answer.

« PreviousContinue »