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End in sight for decades-long cleanup of World War I munitions, chemicals in NW

Timeframe set for finishing decades-long cleanup of World War I munitions, chemicals in NW. (ABC7)
Timeframe set for finishing decades-long cleanup of World War I munitions, chemicals in NW. (ABC7)
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There is light at the end of the tunnel for the Spring Valley cleanup.

The US Army Corps of Engineers, overseeing the project, says its work at the Glenbrook Road site could be completed by this fall.

“We just want it to be over with,” says neighbor John Stiner, who’s lived in the neighborhood for thirty years.

The $275-million cleanup was triggered by the discovery of some military ordinance on nearby 52nd place, back in 1993.

Since then, the Glenbrook site has become a kind of environmental puzzle.

Cleanup organizers say the area is classified as a ‘Formerly used defense site,’ or FUDS for short.

“They developed and tested chemical warfare materials here,” says Project Manager Brenda Barber.

Environmental crews have been literally digging down to the bedrock.

Buried under all that dirt, were traces of a chemical weapons research and testing facility dating back to the World War I era.

Since then, workers have discovered 75 millimeter shells, traces of mustard gas, arsenic, laboratory glass and even animal remains.

Cleaning all that up has not been easy.

“It’s not a simple project,” says Chris Gardner, a spokesperson for the US Army Corps of Engineers. “We want to make sure it’s done right and done thoroughly so we can return the property for future use.”

One of the most invasive, difficult parts of the operation was the removal of arsenic from neighboring properties.

“There was an arsenic removal throughout the entire FUDS property--- 1200 to 1600 total lots,” Barber recalls. “There were traces of arsenic in the soil, depths of eighteen inches to the sub-surface, sometimes four to six feet.”

Project workers at the Glenbrook site have dug up 500 munition items, 400 pounds of lab glass and 100 tons of contaminated soil.

Just two weeks ago, inspectors discovered a new wrinkle.

They found a mysterious black substance that contained traces of mustard gas.

The cleanup was put on hold, while engineers worked out a plan to remove the material.

Now, only a small strip of affected soil is left.

The Army says it will likely take a few more weeks to remove the remaining black substance.

“That’s why we decided to take a pause of the site, so we can ensure the safety of the public and safety of our workers,” Barber says.

The project also includes monitoring of test wells, to keep tabs on the water quality of the aquifer that lies below the Glenbrook site.

“There are several small areas where (the water) would not meet the standards for drinking water,” Gardner says. “So we’re developing an approach on how best to deal with this issue.”

But that’s not all.

Army engineers plan to use modern, updated metal detectors to search dozens of neighboring properties, looking for munitions or anything else that could be a hazard.

“They were shooting canisters from AU on top of the hill,” Stiner says. “And various projectiles going down a couple of blocks over.”

Stiner says he isn’t worried about chemical contamination.

“We raised our kids who are 30-somethings, living in Los Angeles,” he smiles. “They don’t glow in the dark, they look like normal human beings.”

Stiner says inspection teams combed through the neighborhood a few years ago.

“They haven’t found anything,” he says. “I think it’s very unlikely they’re going to find anything of consequence.”

The search for metals could take up to three years, the Army says.

Still, project managers say they’re confident the Glenbrook site will be returned to its normal state by the fall.

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“I think it’s taken a long time, but I’m glad it’s getting wrapped up,” Stiner says.

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