Farm Cleanup Continues

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/9/2016 12:05:56 AM
Modified: 7/9/2016 12:06:06 AM

Hanover — Environmental contractors for Dartmouth College are conducting new excavations at the Rennie Farm, the former burial site for lab animals, reopening a cleanup effort that the school had declared complete years ago.

The move to expand remediation at the rural Hanover site comes at the request of the state, and will include testing for radioactive substances. It also raises concerns for a nearby family whose well was contaminated by chemicals from the animal burial site and who are seeking compensation from the school.

In fall 2011, the college excavated thousands of pounds of animal carcasses laced with industrial chemicals and radioactive isotopes that had been buried at the Rennie Farm during the 1960s and ’70s. The following summer, Dartmouth’s contractor, GZA GeoEnvironmental, considered the work finished.

“Based on recent excavation activities, we believe the source chemical waste material has been removed and properly disposed from the site,” GZA said in a June 14, 2012, letter to state regulators.

Tests at the time showed that high levels of a toxic chemical solvent component had been left behind, something which the college and its contractor attributed to “residual contamination” from the excavation itself, rather than “an ongoing source remaining in the pit area.”

But last month, Dartmouth discovered materials that had been missed during the initial dig, according to Paul Rydel, a groundwater remediation specialist at the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. The college’s consultants were investigating three “anomalous areas” near the dump site for buried metal, and found just that — along with additional laboratory waste.

Dartmouth now will be required to submit a work plan to find and dispose of this extra waste, extending a remedial operation that as of December had cost the college about $200,000, according to a spokesperson.

Officials with NHDES have asked that the work include new tests for radioactive substances, which the 2011 excavation had been intended to remove.

Rydel said in an email last week that there could be a link between 1,4-dioxane, a potentially carcinogenic contaminant found at the site and in the neighbors’ well, and the radioactive materials. The 1,4-dioxane, he said, may have been part of a solution used in medical laboratories to measure medically administered levels of radiation in body fluid or tissue.

“Residual 1,4-dioxane related to laboratory wastes at the site could potentially contain some amounts of radionuclides,” he said.

As long as the radioactive waste remained in the ground, Dartmouth had been required to maintain a permit with New Hampshire Radiological Health Services. The college recently had the license discontinued, but that may change if new testing reveals radioactivity.

Meanwhile, a family on nearby Rennie Road, Deb and Richard Higgins, still are living with the contamination of their well, and have hired Norwich attorney Geoffrey Vitt to represent them in talks with the college.

“The Higginses are quite concerned that after (Dartmouth officials) told everyone they had remediated, turns out they hadn’t,” Vitt said in an interview Thursday.

The family has asked Dartmouth to buy their house or provide them with funds to relocate, but so far the two sides have not reached an agreement.

“We are still continuing our discussions with the college,” Vitt said, “but we have not resolved the Higgins’ case to date.”

Rydel said he expected Dartmouth soon would post a report of its June 23 excavation that uncovered laboratory waste, along with a work plan to deal with any remaining materials. And according to a college spokesperson, test results for radioactive isotopes will arrive in the coming week.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at or at 603-727-3242.

Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784


© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy