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Advisory Board Formed To Oversee TCE Work

Hanover — A geophysicist, a former selectwoman and a retiree from Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory are among the people who will make up an advisory board that will oversee remediation of a carcinogenic chemical contaminating the soil of the Army research laboratory.

It has been nearly a year since officials at Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, or CRREL, first notified abutters that Trichloroethylene, or TCE, might have migrated undeground off the Army lab’s campus on Route 10 to nearby businesses, Dartmouth College housing and Richmond Middle School.

Since then, indoor air samples showed no detectable levels of TCE within the middle school — although the compound is in the soil vapor on the school’s property. And while trace amounts of TCE were found in the air at nearby businesses and a few Dartmouth-owned homes to the south of the Army lab, officials deemed the levels safe.

Now the Army is focused on determining the size of the TCE plume underground and testing pilot remediation efforts. An eight-member advisory board has been formed to help with that goal. The Army is required to see if there is community interest in forming an advisory board.

The Restoration Advisory Board, or RAB, will meet from 4 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday in the Richmond Middle School cafeteria. The meeting is open to the public.

TCE was once used as a liquid solvent, and there were large spills at the lab in the 1970s. In recent years, Army officials discovered that TCE vapor in the soil was seeping into the Army lab and contaminating the indoor air.

Dick Berg, of West Lebanon, began working at CRREL in 1962 and retired as a research civil engineer in 1996, meaning he was at the lab during the 1970 spills. He’s a member of the advisory board and said his main concern is whether the contamination is going to impact the health of the people near CRREL, especially students at Richmond Middle School. And he said he has many questions, like what made the soil vapor move off the Army lab’s campus.

“I guess I’m basically nosy, and I just want to know what’s happening,” Berg said from his home in Florida, where he spends the winter. “By being on the board, you may have more impact than just the general public asking questions.”

The newly formed board has only an advisory role. The Army will make all decisions about testing and remediation. The board has the authority to review and ask questions about reports regarding testing for soil vapor and vapor intrusion within buildings, said Darrell Moore, a project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The board will likely meet quarterly.

Moore said Monday that the Army is still developing a “work plan” for testing a pilot extraction program utilizing a vacuum. The Army likely will have to wait until spring to install the equipment and test the pilot program.

By the end of 2014, Moore said he’s hoping the Army will know the effectiveness of some of the pilot systems and will be able to begin finalizing remediation plans. Moore said he expects remediation emphasis to be placed on the soil beneath the Army lab, where high levels of TCE have been found in the vapor.

Jonathan Brush, director of facilities for Hanover and Norwich schools, is a member of the advisory board, and said as far as the Richmond Middle School property is concerned, he’s not sure that remediation is necessary on the school’s property.

Brush said he wants the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to continue periodic testing throughout the next few years to help understand how and if the contaminated vapor is moving. But if the vapor is stagnant and doesn’t pose a threat of entering the school, then it shouldn’t pose a risk to students, Brush said.

“If the test results keep showing that there’s less than the appropriate margin of TCE gas, then our worries are over,” Brush said. “And if it goes the other way, then we need to pay close attention.”

Roelof Versteeg, a member of the advisory board, has a son at the middle school and a daughter at the Ray School and has a Ph.D. in geophysics. He’s the founder of Subsurface Insights, a geophysical research and development company in Hanover, and has spent a good portion of his career working in the field of contamination remediation.

Versteeg has experience mapping contamination, and said he researches how contaminants move and how they can be cleaned up.

“In general, subsurface contaminations are a very expensive problem to solve,” Versteeg said, “and complex because we don’t know what is under the ground very well, and the variability in it makes it really hard to understand what is happening.”

Versteeg does work for federal agencies, including the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense and said he hopes that experience will be helpful when working with CRREL.

“I think like everyone else, when this news came out, it sounded very concerning,” Versteeg said, “and I think it’s good to have an advisory board to get a better understanding of what is going on. ...The decision of where and when the money is spent is not with the advisory board, but I think there is a strong interest from CRREL to do this the right way.”

Another board member who has a strong interest in the cleanup is Tim McNamara, associate director of real estate for the Dartmouth College Real Estate Office. Dartmouth owns 32 single-family houses south of CRREL and the Rivercrest property to the north, which Dartmouth would like to one day develop. The Valley News previously reported that McNamara himself raised questions about the potential of soil vapor back in 2003 before it was a concern to Army officials.

McNamara said he volunteered because Dartmouth was looking for a representative on the board.

“We own the two abutting properties to the north and south, so we have a tremendous interest in this whole remediation process,” McNamara said. “There’s a lot at stake here.”

Kate Connolly, a former Hanover Selectwoman, was on a similar advisory board back in the 1990s when CRREL was worried about TCE contaminating the groundwater. At the time, a groundwater treatment plant was installed.

“The memory I have is an excellent one,” Connolly said about her time on the advisory board. “The discussions were factual, and the end result was, I think, a good one with the knowledge they had at the time.”

The board still has room for more members, and interested applicants can contact Moore at 978-318-8152.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.