Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Industrial hygienists responsible for monitoring the health and environmental impact of demolition on the D.C. General campus found lead on the exterior of a building on the property, according to a letter two hygienists sent to the Department of General Services on July 31.

Five of seven soil samples taken in late July from Building 9, a vacant property that sits about 200 feet away from the family shelter, reflected lead levels higher than D.C.’s allowable threshold, the letter says. 

A spokesperson for DGS did not immediately return City Paper‘s multiple requests for comment, though WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle tweeted Saturday that somebody from the agency called him to deliver the news. He reported that outdoor work will stop temporarily, but that interior demolition will continue.

On Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for DGS contacted City Paper. When City Paper asked when work on the exterior of the building would resume, the spokesperson said “when we’re sure it’s safe” and that DGS is “still working with the hygienist,” but declined to answer further questions about a specific timeline. The spokesperson added that DGS first notified the Council of the results from the July 20 testing last Friday, August 3.

The results of this soil testing, conveyed to DGS by two industrial hygienists at Hillis-Carnes Capitol Services in a letter obtained by City Paper, says that it’s “reasonable” to conclude that “the source of the lead was the wooden window frames,” and that 90 percent of the frames have been remediated. It reads, in part:

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“Hillis-Carnes collected soil samples and reviewed results on July 20, 2018 from Building #9 to determine the potential of lead contamination in site soils. This cycle of samples was collected approximately 6 inches from the building exterior wall, at the soils surface. Hillis-Carnes was instructed by DGS to adhere to the most stringent regulations of <400ppm of lead content which is typically the standard for schools, daycares and other active child occupied facilities. This project lead in soil perimeters would be <1200 ppm, which is the typical action level for a demolition site. Five of the seven samples results were above the District of Columbia Action Level of (400 ppm). The lead in soil results <400ppm were all samples collected at the building dripline. It is reasonable [sic] conclude that the source of lead was the wooden window frames, 90% of the frames have been remediated to date.” 

The hygienists listed a series of steps the demolition team will take to remediate and contain the soil, which include air monitoring, the erection of a polyethylene barrier to contain “airborne material,” special lead abatement training for the project team, and hazardous waste disposal.

DGS has repeatedly told members of the D.C. Council and the public that the demolition of Building 9—as well as all other parts of the campus—wouldn’t affect families living in the shelter, and that there is no remaining lead around the buildings.

In an email dated July 17 from Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau‘s committee director, Tai Meah, to a group of stakeholders (including Nadeau herself), Meah writes that “in [a] July 6 meeting with DGS, Human Services committee members and staff, the agency indicated that air sampling for lead is not completed for buildings that are to be demolished. T-clip tests and soil tests were previously completed, and at this point, all lead is gone.”

Meah continued: “When pressed about air sampling, DGS stated that through the chosen methodology (‘wet suppression’), the lead was kept down. The on-site Industrial Hygienist confirmed that it is highly unlikely that it would travel the 250 ft. distance to the buildings where families reside.” City Paper obtained this email from Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless’ Amber Harding, who was copied on it.

In large part over concerns that buildings on the D.C. General campus contain hazardous materials like lead, over 1000 people and 37 organizations signed onto a petition that asked Mayor Muriel Bowser not to begin demolition on the D.C. General campus until all of the roughly 140 families currently living there moved out.

A group of activists staged a protest in front of the mayor’s house last week, though it was unclear if the mayor was home at the time. 

This post has been updated to reflect a comment from DGS.