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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, June 13, 2024


May 23, 2003 – After years of measuring and record checking, researchers contracted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are digging into a portion of Water Island in search of chemical weapons remnants from experiments half a century ago. The man overseeing the project says he's confident nothing will be found.
The contractor working with the Army Corps is sampling the soil around an abandoned Army test site. Program manager Robert Bridgers says the sampling is part of a thorough investigation intended to ensure that the former Fort Segarra is safe and free of any possible chemical remnants from the post-World War II San Jose Project.
"Our contractor has just began collecting soil samples from several of the test areas," Bridgers said this week. Investigation teams have made several visits to the site over the last decade, but this is the first time workers have dug into the hard, rocky soil around Fort Segarra. The objective, he said, is to obtain samples for laboratory analysis as to composition.
Bridgers said the work is being done in coordination with the U.S. Interior Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
From 1948 to 1950, as part of the San Jose Project, Fort Segarra and parts of Sub Base were used to test the stability of chemical weapons stored and dispersed under tropical conditions. The materials were supposed to be removed before Water Island was turned over to Interior in 1952, but in the mid 1960s developers found two devices filled with cyanogen chloride. Those materials were removed by a crew from the Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Puerto Rico.
Investigators now are checking for traces of cyanogen chloride and phosgene, two of the chemicals used during the project's testing phase in the 1940s.
Speaking on a St. Thomas radio talk show earlier this week, Bridgers expressed confidence that no other chemicals would be found. He based his comments on what he called an "extensive archival research" commissioned from the Army Corps' St. Louis district.
"As a result of that much, much more extensive and inclusive documentation," he said "we've got a better idea and better understanding now that the Army did not leave any items there unaccounted for, although for many years there was some speculation." He said investigators have "a fairly good idea now that we're not going to … find anything there."
Bridgers said samples taken from a number of test sites will be sent to two separate laboratories for analysis because some of the chemical traces being sought are measured in parts per million and others are by parts per billion. "Everything has to be precise and by the book," he said.
The sampling team is expected to continue its work on Water Island for another two to six weeks, he said. Samples are being collected by workers using shovels and backhoes, digging to within 18 inches of the water table. He said obtaining the results of the chemical analyses may take several more weeks.
Declaring the site safe and free of any hazards is one of the steps that has to be completed before the transfer of Water Island to the government of the Virgin Islands can be finalized. Official transfer of the island from the Interior Department began in December 1996.

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