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Crane arrives, cleanup to begin at WWI munitions test site

Wednesday - 5/29/2013, 4:30pm  ET

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A crane has arrived at American University to set up heavy equipment and safety filtration systems needed as the Army Corps of Engineers excavates contaminated soil and laboratory equipment from a World War I chemical agent and munitions testing site. (WTOP/Andrew Mollenbeck)

WASHINGTON - After years of lawsuits, public meetings and planning, the Army Corps of Engineers is set to begin the main cleanup effort of a World War I chemical agents and munitions testing ground on the edge of American University's campus.

A crane has arrived at the university-owned residential property at 4825 Glenbrook Road to set up the heavy equipment needed to excavate contaminated soil and any debris left from the American University Experiment Station. Army Corps of Engineers crews have already torn down most of a home that stood on the property leaving only the foundation, which is lying in a layer of the most contaminated soil.

"The heavy duty work is beginning now," says Clem Gaines, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers in Baltimore.

This summer, engineers will install a two-part, control system: an engineering control structure that looks like a large tent and a chemical agent filtration system that will filter the air leaving the tent if any chemical agents are released.

"We will excavate the areas on the property underneath this tent, and we'll safely find and remove any of the experiment station debris," Gaines says. "Probably by early August we'll actually begin our work, our excavations, underneath the tent."

Gaines says the work poses no threat to neighbors.

Site preparation work to set up the safety structure has uncovered more debris from the test lab including a 75mm munition and a test tube. No chemical agents have been detected on any of the glassware found since May 15, according to the Army Corps.

Since 2000, the corps has removed more than 500 munitions, 400 pounds of laboratory glassware and 100 tons of contaminated soil from the site.

Following the excavations, the Army Corps will restore the property so that it is safe for redevelopment.

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WTOP's Andrew Mollenbeck contributed to this report. Follow @mollenbeckWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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