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Earth The Military

Another WW-I Chemical Site In Washington, DC 249

Posted by kdawson
from the fourth-time's-the-charm dept.
WrongSizeGlass writes "The AP is reporting that the US Army Corps of Engineers has uncovered what appears to be the fourth major disposal area for World War I-era munitions and chemical weapons in the nation's capital. Digging was suspended at a construction site after 'workers pulled smoking glassware from the pit — preliminary tests show the glassware was contaminated with the toxic chemical arsenic trichloride. ... Workers also discovered a jar about three-quarters full of a dark liquid that turned out to be the chemical agent mustard.' Someone needs to remind our government of the meaning of NIMBY."
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Another WW-I Chemical Site In Washington, DC

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  • No Jahid Needed (Score:4, Insightful)

    by b4upoo (166390) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @03:49PM (#31883274)

    We seem intent enough upon killing ourselves. Outside help need not apply!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by KDR_11k (778916)

      Jahid? Is that when Jamaicans storm the country and distribute weed everywhere?

  • None of their 'disposal' methods were remotely safe and by the time the facilities get shut down, there's no documentation.
    Pretty much anything that used to be a military testing facility or base should be treated as a superfund site.

    • by cusco (717999)
      Worse, most of the disposal was handled by unsupervised contractors (sound familiar?) Back in the '70s a contractor who was supposed to dispose of chemical weapons by dumping them at least 150 miles off the Atlantic coast billed for as many as five trips per day. Interestingly, the barge they used was only capable of 10 knots. Now it looks like the game is even older than I thought.
    • by Qzukk (229616)

      there's no documentation.

      I'm sure the whole thing is very well documented, it's just that all that documentation on military activity is wherever the government keeps the rest of the classified information in order to protect themselves^Wus.

  • Explanation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nerdfest (867930) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @03:55PM (#31883300)
    Toxic chemicals leaching into the groundwater would go a long way towards explaining some of the things that go on in DC.
    • Toxic chemicals leaching into the groundwater would go a long way towards explaining some of the things that go on in DC.

      Does mustard gas corrupt people that fast?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Hognoxious (631665)

      Sadly, it's not toxic enough.

    • by Kozz (7764)

      Then again, it could be that the cause and effect are just the opposite of what you're suggesting. They import lots of loonies.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Naw, "contamination by abnormally high concentrations of money and power" is a simpler explanation.
    • Very few politicians live in that part of town.

  • by AaronW (33736) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @04:14PM (#31883402) Homepage

    Maybe they're really Saddam's WMDs that Bush and Cheney were searching for all those years! Those sneaky Iraqis!

  • I know (Score:3, Funny)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @04:16PM (#31883416) Journal

    Someone needs to remind our government of the meaning of NIMBY.

    I know, that's what I've always said. I've always said we should have buried that stuff in Germany. Or at least England.

  • NIMBY (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    "Someone needs to remind our government of the meaning of NIMBY."

    HUH! I can think of no more appropriate place than in our government's backyard. Where else should they be dumping this? City folk like them want to dump it out in my back yard. I don't want it. Let them keep it.

    • Oh, cut the crap. The "big government" that you guys love to complain about didn't exist in 1914.

      This could just as easily have happened in any other big city (in fact, it has [wikipedia.org] at least once). NIMBYism doesn't have much hold in DC, primarily because the city has very little sovereignty of its own. It astonishes me to this day that the city managed to keep I-95 out of the city center.

  • by bartwol (117819) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @04:27PM (#31883470)

    Someone needs to remind our government of the meaning of NIMBY.

    Aye-aye, Captain! The time travel vessel is being readied in the launch bay, and your message will be delivered to those 1914 morons in just a few minutes!

    Brilliant advice, Sir!

  • Remind? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jadavis (473492) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @04:28PM (#31883476)

    Someone needs to remind our government of the meaning of NIMBY."

    To what end? So they don't travel a century back in time to bury their weapons ever again?

    Maybe they should also have some military official today apologize for someone else burying weapons in the distant past.

    I believe this is a case of personifying the government as a 200-year-old, which leads to ridiculous statements, and worse, ridiculous policy.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by John Hasler (414242)

      > I believe this is a case of personifying the government as a 200-year-old,
      > which leads to ridiculous statements, and worse, ridiculous policy.

      Yes. As ridiculous as, say, personifying corporations.

    • 200 years old? No wonder he's forgotten where he's buried stuff!

  • asinine (Score:5, Informative)

    by je ne sais quoi (987177) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @04:36PM (#31883510)
    The summary gives the impression like the U.S. Government has has been willfully ignoring the problem. The fact is there were so many munitions created for WWI and they were used in such a concentrated area that it's no surprise that there are stockpiles of the stuff still around. For example, 16 million acres [wikipedia.org] of northern France had to be cordoned off at the end of the war. They are still pulling chemical weapons out of the ground in some places too, like a site off of a beach resort [greatwar.nl] or this stockpile [greatwar.nl] where farmers to this day plow up unexploded rounds in Belgium. The fact is, there are massive amount of chemical weapons scattered around still from that era and there isn't a hell of a lot that anyone can do about it so quit trying to pin this on the current government. In fact, if you read those links, you'll find the army corps of engineers is responding in a pretty responsible way compared with what they're going through in Houthulst (the last link).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I'd like to know, from a historical perspective, how this was just "misplaced" so close to the capital, even during war time. Unlike Europe, this is not an area where a war occurred - and the article states it was one of only a few "major" dumping sites. Classified or not, I would imagine this is something that the US Government took rather meticulous records of, even back in WWI - and something that a reasonable number of scientists, military officers, and technicians knew about. Was there some significant
      • Re:asinine (Score:4, Informative)

        by CyberK (1191465) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @07:46PM (#31884354)
        Back then it wasn't close to the capital. It was rural farmland and houses weren't built there until the nineties, according to the article.
      • by Jeremi (14640)

        I'd like to know, from a historical perspective, how this was just "misplaced" so close to the capital, even during war time. Unlike Europe, this is not an area where a war occurred

        True, but it's certainly an area that the war might have spread to, had things gone differently. Perhaps the weapons were stockpiled there in case they might be needed to defend the capital?

    • by Deadstick (535032)

      John Keegan tells of an area in France along the Somme where the freeze-thaw cycles still bring unexploded shells to the surface that landed there in 1916. The sugar-beet farms are worked by unmanned machines dragged across the fields on cables. Every so often a machine stops with a CLANK, and the army comes and takes the shell away.

      Keegan calls it a place where the earth vomits.

      rj

  • There are number of cases of spent nuclear fuel going missing as well. It may end up surprising us the way these munitions have.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by cusco (717999)
      Back in the '50s the military lost count of how many 'dial-a-yield' nuclear howitzer rounds they manufactured. IIRC, the best they could do was "8,000-10,000". Removing the powder casing, the warhead is the famous 'backpack nuke' that Victor Bout was supposedly trying to sell before the Brewster Jennings operation was blown by the last Madministration.
  • by v1 (525388) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @04:45PM (#31883542) Homepage Journal

    "They've created a hazardous waste site in the neighborhood," Wells said.

    Actually, the neighborhood was created in the hazardous waste site.

    further from TFA: the leftover munitions and chemicals were buried behind the school in what was then rural farmland

    The article makes it sound like the chems found their way there after the housing development. How much of this is the army's fault... and how much of it is the housing developers fault? Surely they did a little research on the history of the land before they tried to start a housing development there? Probably not, or maybe that's why they got the land so cheap? I know someone personally that had a very close call with some land he almost bought, (got stuck with) that he found out just in time used to be where line transformers were rebuilt. (can you say "ground and buildings saturated with PCBs [wikipedia.org]?) When you buy something like that, it doesn't become exclusively your problem, but you now share a portion of the responsibility for its cleanup once it's deemed necessary.

    Basically, if there's a toxic problem and you own it and you don't clean it up or get it cleaned up, you're on the hook for it even years down the road after it's changed hands several times. Of course, the more hands its passed through before someone forces the cleanup, the more diluted your share of the blame becomes. Unfortunately, for this reason, it's on their best interest to NOT clean it up, and to do everything they can to hide the problem, for as long as possible.

    Someone's probably doing some research right now trying to figure out how well this chemical disposal was documented, who if anyone was negligent for not factoring it in or disclosing it, and who all is now on the list of people that will be footing the cleanup bill.

  • NIMBY? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Urban Garlic (447282) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @05:05PM (#31883640)

    The area was the Government's back-yard at the time, and the actual home where the munitions were found is Federal property today, so I think the NIMBY tag is misapplied.

    There was a chemical weapons lab at American University during the first world war, and they apparently also were testing the weapons delivery systems, and fired all kinds of nasty stuff into what was then vacant land.

    Which is not to say that it's OK, of course, only that it's a documentation and clean-up FAIL, and not really a NIMBY FAIL.

    Also, I was surprised to see the article actually did refer to "smoking glassware", I had assumed that was an alarmist mis-interpretation of "smoked glass", but apparently they did find "smoking and fuming glassware".

  • ...that the nuclear waste dumps we're planning will remain secure - not just for a few generations but for the millenia promised. What could ever happen in the future that we can't anticipate today?
  • The meaning of NIMBY (Score:5, Informative)

    by ThrowAwaySociety (1351793) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @05:26PM (#31883760)

    I thought the meaning of NIMBY was, "Yes, I agree that our town needs a new trash dump/electrical plant/sewage plant/prison, but Not In My Back Yard.

    Put it on the Black/Poor side of town.

    That is, historically, the meaning of NIMBY.

    • by PPH (736903)
      Wasn't this the idea behind putting all the politicians in Washington DC in the first place.
    • by FooAtWFU (699187)
      We have an updated version for this day and age. Now, it goes on the poor/Hispanic side of town.
  • by istartedi (132515) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @05:47PM (#31883856) Journal

    Cows grazed near Georgetown until the WW TWO era.

    I bet the munitions were dumped far from the monumental core, in an area the locals thought of as "the sticks". That doesn't excuse it of course, it just explains it.

  • NIMBY? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Chris Mattern (191822) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @06:18PM (#31884002)

    Someone needs to remind our government of the meaning of NIMBY.

    This was 95 years ago. The chemical sites were there first; the backyards came later.

    • MOD PARENT UP.

      People move into areas that have dumps and roads and coal mines and other shit and then have the gall to complain.

      How bout ya complain to the shady developers who cover over garbage, plant some grass and sell you a cookie cutter house that is worht shit?

  • by PPH (736903) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @07:19PM (#31884260)
    Just think of the news story in a few hundred years when they halt the Yucca Mountain shopping center project.

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