Res­i­dents nearby Dart­mouth say col­lege pol­luted ground­wa­ter

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY MICHAEL CASEY

HANOVER, N.H. | Neigh­bors of Dart­mouth Col­lege prop­erty say they fear their ground­wa­ter has been con­tam­i­nated by pol­lu­tion from the site where for years the Ivy League school dis­posed of mice and other small an­i­mals used in sci­ence ex­per­i­ments.

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,” Mrs. 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 1,4-diox­ane, had leaked into the ground­wa­ter.

It was ini­tially 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, about 800 feet from the site — at twice the state stan­dard. They learned in Septem­ber 2015 that their well was pol­luted, and now de­pend on bot­tled wa­ter sup­plied by Dart­mouth for cook­ing and drink­ing.

The news has rat­tled the semiru­ral neigh­bor­hood, spark­ing anger and fear among dozens of home­own­ers who worry the plume will reach their own wells and dam­age their prop­erty val­ues. Many con­tend Dart­mouth was too slow to re­spond once it found the con­tam­i­na­tion and has been re­luc­tant to pro­vide full de­tails of what was on the site — some­thing the col­lege de­nies.

“Right now, ev­ery­one is very con­fused and con­cerned,” said Ellen Waitzkin, a ra­di­ol­o­gist who lives across from the site. “They are try­ing to de­ter­mine on what ba­sis they should feel threat­ened or not.”

The Hig­ginses and other res­i­dents ar­gue an alert about the spread­ing con­tam­i­na­tion should have gone out ear­lier. New Hamp­shire en­vi­ron­men­tal and Dart­mouth of­fi­cials said ini­tial tests showed the lev­els of 1,4-diox­ane were de­clin­ing on the site and were pro­jected to re­main on the farm site — though state of­fi­cials now con­cede there could have been more ag­gres­sive mon­i­tor­ing.

Now Dart­mouth is work­ing to re­gain the trust of the res­i­dents. It apol­o­gized in Septem­ber for its han­dling of the case, es­tab­lished a neigh­bor­hood ad­vi­sory panel and sam­pled 110 drink­ing wells in the neigh­bor­hood; no oth­ers have tested pos­i­tive. It also of­fered 20 house­holds bot­tled wa­ter.

It is also fin­ish­ing con­struc­tion on a sys­tem at the dump site to cap­ture and clean the con­tam­i­nated wa­ter. When it be­gins op­er­at­ing in Jan­uary, wells will pull con­tam­i­nated ground­wa­ter into the sys­tem and fil­ter it.

“We are com­mit­ted to pro­tect­ing the health of our neigh­bors, ad­dress­ing their con­cerns and com­mu­ni­cat­ing reg­u­larly and openly with them about the project,” col­lege spokes­woman Diana Lawrence said of the cleanup, which so far has cost $8.4 mil­lion.

But for the Hig­ginses and their neigh­bors, the col­lege hasn’t gone far enough. Some want more soil re­moved, while oth­ers want Dart­mouth to of­fer com­pen­sa­tion for their de­te­ri­o­rat­ing prop­erty val­ues — de­mands the col­lege says it is con­sid­er­ing.

The Hig­ginses say their health prob­lems have mostly dis­ap­peared since they switched to bot­tled wa­ter. But they call that a short-term fix and want the col­lege to move them to a new home.

“We want to be­come whole if there is such a thing,” Mr. Hig­gins said. “We want to get on with our lives. Right now, our life is in limbo.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Deb­bie and Richard Hig­gins, whose well wa­ter has been con­tam­i­nated by a sus­pected car­cino­gen from a nearby Dart­mouth dump site and now must use bot­tled wa­ter, are seek­ing dam­ages and po­ten­tial re­lo­ca­tion at the ex­pense of the col­lege.

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