Bombs in Our Backyard


On a winter morning in 1993, the residents of the affluent Washington, DC neighborhood known as Spring Valley awoke to the news that construction workers had unearthed World War I munitions in the backyards of two homes. Unbeknownst to them, the United States Army developed toxic chemicals at nearby Camp American University and tested them in the surrounding countryside during the war. There is no record of where they might have been buried, and after the war ended the land was sold to a developer, who built houses on the site.

All of this was forgotten history until 16 years ago. Since then, longtime Spring Valley homeowner Ginny Durrin has documented this story as it has unfolded. Her initial focus was on the military’s occupation of her neighborhood, including its investigation and clean-up efforts. When arsenic—a major component in the weapons and a deadly carcinogen—was found in the soil, she began filming residents’ reactions. Many feared that their health could be in danger.

Through the incorporation of archival footage, local news coverage, and interviews with Spring Valley residents and army and government officials, “Bombs in Our Backyard” raises questions about government culpability and social and environmental responsibility while shedding light on a growing cause for concern: as many as 200 other Formerly Used Defense Sites exist elsewhere in America. The situation in Spring Valley is hardly unique. While Durrin and her neighbors cope with their uncertain fate, others have yet to be warned about potential hazards. Is Spring Valley safe? Are other communities at risk? “Bombs in Our Backyard” is a clarion call to activists, environmentalists, and thoughtful, engaged citizens the world over.