Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

David Vail

Committee Members

Nathan Tye, Douglas Biggs, Torsten Homberger


chemical warfare, chemical weapons, dioxin, environmental history, lewisite, US Army


In 1993, the affluent Washington D.C. neighborhood of Spring Valley was unaware of what lurked beneath their carefully manicured lawns and million-dollar homes. Contractors hired by a resident to build an inground pool suddenly found themselves short of breath and half the crew had to be rushed to the hospital suffering respiratory distress, internal blistering of the lungs, and vision problems. The symptoms they exhibited matched all the characteristics of the World War I era blister agent lewisite. This thesis is an environmental study of chemical weapons that aims to contribute to the overall history of these weapons and their disposal by looking beyond diplomacy and development and focusing on how production and disposal of chemical weapons have affected ecosystems, impacting both human and non-human actors in significant ways. Spring Valley is just one of the more prominent examples of negligent chemical weapons disposal by the military. Numerous other incidents have occurred across the United States since 1993 including a host of chemical agents produced both during and after the Great War including sulfur mustard, chloropicrin, phosgene, and VX gas. By looking at the deep and expansive footprint left by the American chemical weapons program, this study will show how disposal methods used during the twentieth century and continuing through the twenty-first century contributed to the disruption of delicate ecosystems and the continued marginalization of classes of citizens who have been denied agency in decisions regarding the locations and methods used for destruction of America’s aging chemical weapons arsenal.

Included in

History Commons



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