Spring Valley chemical munitions Washington, District of Columbia : public health evaluation for the Spring Valley community, Washington, DC
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Spring Valley chemical munitions Washington, District of Columbia : public health evaluation for the Spring Valley community, Washington, DC

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      During and after World War I (WWI)—specifically, from 1917 to 1920—the U.S. Army (Army) conducted chemical warfare research and testing at its Washington, D.C. American University Experiment Station (AUES). Following WWI, some of the chemical agents, ordnance, and laboratory wastes generated at the site were disposed of at AUES and in an adjacent area known as Spring Valley. Recent discoveries of those buried munitions and chemical agents have resulted in both the Spring Valley neighborhood and the American University being designated a Formerly Used Defense Site (FUDS). This designation authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to address environmental contamination resulting from past Department of Defense activities at the American University/Spring Valley site (sometimes collectively referred to in this health consultation as the Spring Valley Community).

      Since 1993, the USACE has been investigating the Spring Valley Community to determine where and to what extent the Army disposed of buried ordnance, explosive wastes, and hazardous substances. USACE found several burial pits containing munitions and chemical agents as well as arsenic in soil exceeding background levels. The primary chemical agents found were mustard agent, lewisite, and their degradation products. In 2002, the USACE determined that three artillery shells found at the Glenbrook Road burial pits contained arsine gas.Some community members believe their health is being adversely affected because of AUES- related activities. In this evaluation, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) considers community health concerns and possible health implications of detected levels of contaminants. This assessment is an analysis of site-specific environmental and health data, exposure investigations, as well as a literature review on reported diseases. We consider exposure to arsenic in soil, indoor dust and air, and drinking water as well as other contaminants according to available data. ATSDR also evaluated possible hazards associated with materials found in burial pits and surface disposal areas and whether buried contaminants could migrate and reach people (e.g., via groundwater orsoil gas). As summarized below, our assessment indicates that most people in Spring Valley have not and will not experience adverse health effects due to AUES activities because exposure point concentrations are not high enough to result in adverse health effects.

      An ATSDR health consultation is a verbal or written response from ATSDR to a specific request for information about health risks related to a specific site, a chemical release, or the presence of hazardous material. In order to prevent or mitigate exposures, a consultation may lead to specific actions, such as restricting use of or replacing water supplies; intensifying environmental sampling; restricting site access; or removing the contaminated material.

      In addition, consultations may recommend additional public health actions, such as conducting health surveillance activities to evaluate exposure or trends in adverse health outcomes; conducting biological indicators of exposure studies to assess exposure; and providing health education for health care providers and community members.

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