Don’t you just hate it when you buy a nice house in a nice neighborhood near American University and the next thing you know you’re finding out that, just a few feet below where you put your children to sleep, there is discarded mustard gas from back in the day when your property was used as a chemical weapons testing ground? No? Never happened to me either, but it has indeed happened in D.C., and a pretty large cleanup effort is entering a crucial stage in Northwest.

The house in question is located at 4825 Glenbrook Road NW, about a block from American University.  The house has already been razed, but crews are beginning to excavate underneath the home’s foundation today.  Previous excavations have led researchers to believe that there is mustard gas and something called lewisite located underneath the home.  Lewisite is a particularly nasty chemical that penetrates clothing and even rubber, causing chemical burn.  It can also wreck havoc on your liver—or just plain kill you.

At any rate, crews are beginning to enter a potentially dangerous step in the clean up efforts of the site.  Now that they’ve successfully gotten rid of the house, they’ll be digging away layer after layer of dirt underneath the home, looking for a dump site of more chemical weapons debris.

“That’s the phase of the operation during which we would anticipate discovering debris from the American University Experiment Station,” Brenda Barber, the project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers told WTOP.

Apparently what happened was the area was used by the Army in WWI to do chemical weapons testing.  While they took good care to keep detailed records on how many rabbits their chemicals had killed, they forgot to write down where the holes they were dumping their debris were located.  After WWI ended the Army gave the land back to American University and over the years houses were built in what soldiers had previously dubbed ‘Death Valley’. Uplifting, right?

Today, where a very nice house had once stood is now surrounded by a ‘tent-like structure’ and is being treated with the utmost care by teams in HAZMAT gear. According to WTOP, so far crews have removed 500 munitions, 400 pounds of laboratory glass beakers and the like, along with 200 thousand pounds of contaminated dirt from the site.  The cleanup began after workers found mortars at another home in 1993 and excavations of the current site are expected to finish by the end of 2014.

So, I guess if you’re a gardener in that area, I recommend stopping immediately and joining a community garden somewhere else.

[Images via the New York Times]