WWI-Era Munitions Uncovered in D.C. Park: Shutdown Ensues

By Elliot Chen November 11, 2023

Discovery of potentially dangerous World War I-era munitions in Fort Totten Park prompts closer investigation and temporary closure.

Parts of Fort Totten Park in Washington, D.C., have been cordoned off as the National Park Service and the U.S. Army delve deeper into an ongoing investigation revolving around World War I-era munitions found on the site, officials declared this Thursday.

The discovery of these metal projectiles, originally made in April, led to suspicions that other similar pieces could be hidden within the parklands. While the reason behind these suspicions was not revealed, the National Park Service confirmed the possibility of more munitions in the area.

During unpermitted work carried out by a neighboring property owner, two metal canisters were exposed on April 18, which resulted in approximately 10 feet of soil being deposited onto Fort Totten Park. Among the unearthed munitions were a 75-mm projectile, about 11 inches long, and a mortar-like 19-inch-long Livens projector capable of launching gas bombs.

Local transportation services were disrupted as a precaution, with subway trains bypassing the Fort Totten stop for over an hour when the munitions were initially found, according to local reports by WUSA-TV, a CBS affiliate. Upon further analysis, Army specialists concluded the 75-mm projectile was hazard-free and only contained soil. However, the Livens projector was filled to about 85% capacity with an unidentified liquid.

The liquid, initially tested with inconclusive results, was sent to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland for more effective testing. By conclusion, the liquid was certified as being 99.9994% water and 0.0006% acetophenone, a commercial chemical used commonly in the perfume industry as a fragrance for soaps and perfumes and as a flavoring agent in food, in addition to being used as a solvent for plastics and resins.

A representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers communicated to WTOP that these canisters resembled weapons found during a cleanup at the former American University Experiment Station, previously referred to as the "mother of all toxic dumps."

This incident occurs two years post the discovery of an empty, unfused WWI-era metal canister in Fort Totten Park, reported the CBS affiliate WUSA-TV. Expressing his worries, Zach Ammerman, Local advisory neighborhood commissioner, had expressed in May that such findings were "concerning and alarming."

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton sought an extensive investigation into potential environmental hazards in the Park in her letter to the National Park Service Director Charles Sams. "I believe it is imperative that NPS conduct an investigation throughout Fort Totten Park," Norton stated. "This park is located in a residential neighborhood and is regularly used."