Neighborhood worries about grave for lab mice
hanover, n.h.» Neighbors of Dartmouth College property where for years the Ivy League school disposed of mice and other small animals used in science experiments say they fear pollution from the site has contaminated their groundwater and they worry the school hasn’t been completely up front with them.
The site has contaminated the well water of at least one family, that of Richard and Debbie Higgins, who blame a variety of health problems on it, including rashes, hair and skin loss and dizziness. Even their dogs were not spared, they say, with one urinating blood and another vomiting. “We have been drinking the water for years, and we had no idea, absolutely no idea,” Debbie Higgins said.
Few nearby residents even knew the half-acre plot on the college’s Rennie Farm was used from the 1960s until 1978 to dump carcasses from “tracer experiments,” in which scientists used radioactive compounds to see how things moved through life systems. A nearby site also contained remains of human cadavers and stillborn fetuses used in medical classes.
The obscurity of the fenced site changed in 2011, when Dartmouth chose to clean it up, removing 40 tons of carcasses and soil from scores of unlined pits that were legal at the time they were dug. That led to the discovery of hazardous waste and low-level radioactive materials and eventually evidence that at least one chemical used in the animal experiments, the suspected carcinogen 1,4dioxane, had leaked into the groundwater.
It initially was found at 50 times the state standard of 3 parts per billion on the site and more recently as high as 600 parts per billion in the ground. The chemical has been linked to eye, nose and throat irritation and, in long-term exposure, to liver and kidney damage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The 1,4-dioxane was eventually found to have migrated off the site and contaminated the Higginses’ well across the street.