Mysterious substance containing mustard gas halts cleanup at Spring Valley

Cleanup crews finds World War I mustard gas near American University. (ABC7)

A mysterious substance, containing mustard gas, is causing a temporary halt to the chemical weapons cleanup at Spring Valley.

"Basically, it's sort of an unknown black substance that has a low level of contamination of mustard," says Christopher Gardner, a US Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson.

The discovery in April of the material, mixed in the soil at the Glenbrook Road site, means a delay in the overall cleanup, of a project that began in 1993.

That effort, was triggered by the discovery of some military ordinance on nearby 52nd Street.

"It's taken them forever, we really don't know why," says Adrienne Small, who lives around the corner from the site.

"I understand they had to tear down existing property and take out piece by piece, then dig, etc," she adds.

The appearance of the mysterious substance comes as the Army Corp's $270-million cleanup is wrapping up.

The site is where the government researched and tested weapons during the World War One era.

It was known as the American University experiment station.

Now the cleanup will be on hold until late May or early June, while engineers work on a plan to remove the black substance.

"This isn't the kind of stuff you want people handling," Gardner says. "But we have no reason to believe this would cause any concern to the surrounding area, that it would dissipate into the air."

Since 2000, cleanup crews have removed than 500 munition items, 400 pounds of laboratory glassware, and 100 tons of contaminated soil.

On-site workers will now wear protective gear: paper Tyuvek suits, booties, and extra gloves, as they clean up the unknown substance.

"This substance in particular has a level of mustard agent, so we want to make sure to remove that from the site and remove it from the community," Gardner says.

Army engineers are confident they'll have the site restored and ready for residential use by the end of the summer.

Small says she and her neighbors are more than ready.

"I just think you have to be cautious," she says. "I think they took it to a new plateau, and I'll be happy when they're done."

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