Fort Totten ANC seeks investigation after WWI shell’s possible link to chemical weapon cleanup

The possible link between an empty World War I shell, discovered in 2020 during construction of a trail through Fort Totten Park, and the massive Spring Valley cleanup of chemical weapons has the local Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner seeking a “thorough investigation.”

Gordon-Andrew Fletcher, ANC Commissioner 5A08, represents the area where the National Park Service discovered a World War I-era unexploded shell during construction of a paved, lit trail through wooded parkland that will replace an informal path neighbors in Michigan Park used to get to the Fort Totten Metro station in Northeast D.C.

“I was really excited to learn that the pathway was going to be paved,” Fletcher said. “But I do commend Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton for calling for a meeting with all necessary stakeholders, because this is an environmental safety issue.”

In response to WTOP’s reporting that the empty 75mm shell discovered by the NPS had been modified for use as a chemical weapon and that contaminated soil from the Spring Valley cleanup had been trucked to Fort Totten in 1992, Norton sent a letter, Thursday, calling for a joint meeting of the National Park Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, Metro and council members and ANC from Wards 5 and 3.

Norton’s letter said she wanted to learn “the scope of the investigation of the trail and surrounding areas for ordnance and soil and groundwater contamination. It appears the ordnance may be linked to the Spring Valley Formerly Used Defense Site,” Norton wrote.

Fletcher agreed with Norton.

“I think we have to make sure we do a thorough search, a thorough investigation, to make sure that there’s nothing there, for years to come,” said Fletcher, who is also a candidate in the upcoming primary for Ward 5 council seat. “It may be time-consuming, but we’re talking about the safety of our residents.”

Cynthia Hernandez, with the National Park Service, said after the discovery of the shell, which was lying on the surface after heavy rains, the agency searched the area.

“The NPS investigation of the trail site at Fort Totten did not reveal any additional shells or concerns for the health or safety of the community,” said Hernandez. The Park Service said it’s working with a contractor to redesign a segment of the planned trail to avoid WMATA’s Metrorail infrastructure and plans to resume trail construction following completion of that design.

Without specifying what steps he would like to see taken in conducting a more thorough investigation, Fletcher advocated for the safety of residents.

“Ward 5 already has many environmental safety concerns due to air pollution and leaking underground storage tanks,” said Fletcher, noting that residents in the Brentwood neighborhood have filed suit against Mayor Muriel Bowser to stop the District from building a bus depot.

“I am committed to ensuring that residents across the District of Columbia are safe from ordnance, chemical weapons and soil and groundwater contamination,” Norton added.

While a lengthy investigation would likely slow construction of the long-awaited path, Fletcher prioritizes safety.

“I would like for it to be done as swiftly and as efficiently as possible, but thoroughness should be at the forefront,” Fletcher said. “And, then we could get back to getting that pathway paved.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up