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D.C. house over 'mother of all toxic dumps' to be razed

Thursday - 3/22/2012, 3:38pm  ET

'A persistent smell of geraniums'

WTOP's Neal Augenstein reports

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'Zero confidence' they've gotten all the weapons

WTOP's Neal Augenstein reports

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Neal Augenstein, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - In the middle of one of D.C.'s most beautiful and expensive neighborhoods, the home at 4825 Glenbrook Road NW sits shuttered behind a green tarp-covered chain link fence.

The empty house will be removed in May and scientists will finally learn how many discarded chemical weapons lie beneath the home at the center of the Spring Valley cleanup efforts.

"The house is built on the mother of all toxic dumps," says attorney Patrick Regan, who represented the home's former owners.

Regan's clients settled a federal lawsuit with the government, American University and the home builder.

"I can't believe the home is still standing," says Regan.

The two-story brick home remains abandoned among gorgeous, multimillion dollar houses in the neighborhood adjacent to American University.

Army Corps of Engineers project director Brenda Barber tells WTOP the decision to remove the house was made after testing between 2007 and 2010, in an attempt to finalize the situation, which has prompted concern and initial distrust from neighbors.

"We expect, by 2013, to turn the property back to American University, up to residential standards, with no restrictions," says Barber.

The university has not indicated its future plans for the property.

"No one in their right mind, if they knew the history of it, would ever purchase it," says Regan.

Barber says the removal of the above-ground portions of the home will begin in May, and last approximately a month.

"Removing the home will pose no danger to Spring Valley neighbors," says Barber.

The Army Corps of Engineers says it has found more than 500 munition items, 400 pounds of laboratory glassware and more than 100 tons of contaminated soil on the property.

"Even if you dig in the front yard, the back yard, and the side yards, you can't dig under the slab," Regan says.

"If they're under the slab there, there's a very good chance they're under the slab across the street, down the street, and around the corner, and throughout the neighborhoods," Regan says.

When the Corps begins to excavate the basement of the home, an enclosure resembling the bubble domes used for tennis courts will be erected.

"If a chemical agent is released, the structure's filtration system will capture it," says Barber. The negative air pressure system would clean it, at no risk to the public.

Affected soil will be removed and replaced, says Barber. A timeline of the excavation process should be finalized the week.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)