Camp American U is the "Bomb"
Before I delve into this article, I want to acknowledge that some students and faculty know a lot about the aspect of American’s history surrounding its chemical weapons testing. So to those people, this article is simply a quick summary of findings that surround the U.S. Military’s use of American University for chemical weapons research, and the sacrifices the testing had both environmentally and financially. While I can’t do justice pleasing those who poured hours into researching this topic for class, *cough* Evan Bowman, I’ll do my best to write my own interpretation.
We all know American University has had quite a rich history. Ranging from notorious alumni to religious roots, it’s fair to say that its legacy will forever remain within the conscience of our government. But our government’s relationship with American should raise some eyebrows because at one point the campus was used as a military testing outpost for chemical weapons during World War I. While this chapter in American’s history is definitely worth of a Wikipedia search, a little more research needs to be done if you want to really grasp the ongoing struggle American had following chemical weapons testing.
The rabbit hole doesn’t start until 1993, almost 80 years after chemical research started at American. By this time most of the chemical history in this area had been forgotten, until one day a contractor in Spring Valley made an odd discovery while digging a utility trench in the area, chemical munitions. Following this discovery, $230 million has been spent to rid the area of its chemical past, but the past has an interesting way of surfacing.
The creatively named Camp American University, was the birthplace of the Army Chemical Corps, which focused solely on researching and advancing chemical for the sake of the First World War. Looking back at the chemical weapons testing, it becomes stranger than people were seemingly forgot about the history. Imagine being a Spring Valley resident witnessing mortar shells with poisonous gases being shot from American University’s campus at goats and stray dogs. Oh the humanity! In addition, the legendary “hole of Hades” was found in 2013 under a Spring Valley House, which was the largest chemical disposal site during Camp American University’s history. Considering how careless the use and disposal of chemical weapons was during the war, it would only make sense that a necessary clean up would be requested by those living in Spring Valley.
I’m sure some of you have heard either from AU Ambassadors or other random sources that claimed that one of the bombs from American’s time as a military testing outpost was still buried somewhere beneath American University’s main campus. While I wasn’t able to find completely credible evidence claiming that to be true, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) did publish a fact sheet in 2015 documenting the removal of, “...an extensive debris field, ” in an area identified as Lot 18, which was on American University property. However, in 2009, the investigation and subsequent cleanup was finished in Lot 18 and another surrounding area, which did turn up a number of munitions debris.
While there’s plenty of other information, hundreds of pages of documentation and articles, that detail the experiments conducted and cleanup efforts that followed suit, the extent of the damage following the military’s presence at American cannot be truly estimated. I do believe that the campus, for the most part, is safe and largely decontaminated from its chemical past. Mustard gas, one of the more popular and well-known chemical weapons of the First World War, was commonly tested, but because it produced a relatively small cloud, it would have quickly disappeared soon after testing and not significantly impact the area in which it was tested. Many of the other substances faced the same fate as the mustard gas and were lost through time and subsequent development of the community.
Estimating the environmental cost of chemically bombing the Spring Valley area may never be known, however, if you take a look at the area by Cassell Hall, you’ll find a house meant for Sylvia Burwell. It remains unoccupied.