City Desk

D.C. NIMBYs Still Annoyed About Chemical Weapons in Backyard

"We've grown a little too accustomed to having the Army in our backyards, literally in our backyards, for the last 17 years," District resident Tom Smith tells the Los Angeles Times in Sunday's lengthy report about the military's ongoing efforts to clean up ancient munitions pits in Northwest D.C.

The fact that some local residents have been living with chemical weapon stockpiles buried in their backyards for years isn't news, of course. (WaPo filed a brief blog item about it last month.) But it's nice to see a big West Coast newspaper devote such extensive reporting to what is basically a local neighborhood issue:

Since 1993, the Army Corps of Engineers has removed 84 chemical-filled shells and more than 1,000 conventional munitions, plus at least 44,000 tons of contaminated dirt and debris, from the verdant campus of American University and the manicured lawns of Spring Valley, one of Washington's most prestigious neighborhoods.

The toxic trash dates from 1917 and 1918, when the military leased the then-rural campus and nearby farms to test gruesome gases. After the war, soldiers and scientists buried lethal leftovers in unmarked pits, calling the area Death Valley.

Naturally, the D.C. real estate community rebranded the area "Spring Valley" and soon mansions were built. The rest, as they say, is history. The most prestigious chemical-laden address? The yard "between the official residence of South Korea's ambassador, Han Duk-soo, and the white-columned house of American University's president, Cornelius Kerwin," where "previous digs unearthed more than 300 munitions and chemical weapons debris...."

Here's the kicker:

The work draws little apparent interest among students. Only a dozen people showed up when six experts gathered recently to give presentations on the cleanup. A senior, Michael Ginsberg, had organized the panel as part of his honors project.

"Most students don't even know there were chemical weapons here," Ginsberg, 21, said in frustration.

It recalls the old Jello Biafra line from "Kinky Sex Makes The World Go Round":

We've got our college kids so interested in beer
they don't even care if we start manufacturing germ bombs again.
Put a nuclear stockpile in their back yard,
they wouldn't even know what it looked like

 

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