Petition: More Aggressive Rennie Cleanup Needed

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/24/2016 12:18:24 AM
Modified: 7/26/2016 9:57:33 AM

Hanover — Dartmouth College is at odds with a group of concerned neighbors who want the school to undertake a more thorough cleanup of a 50-year-old burial site for laboratory waste.

The residents on Thursday circulated a petition that sharply criticizes Dartmouth and asks for more aggressive safety measures at the Rennie Farm, where the college in the 1960s and ’70s buried several tons of radioactive lab animals.

“Residents are outraged at Dartmouth’s utter disregard for the environment and groundwater, indifference to the impact on a well-dependent population, and Dartmouth’s neglectful and incomplete response to remedy this spreading contamination,” said the petition, which was co-authored by three neighbors: Marjorie Rogalski, who lives on Rennie Road; Peter Spiegel, former chairman of Dartmouth’s radiology department; and Ellen Waitzkin, a doctor who practices in Massachusetts.

Those three residents provided a copy of the petition but declined to be interviewed.

The letter, which bears 36 names, requests that Dartmouth redo a 2011 excavation of the site that missed some materials and released an underground plume of chemicals that entered a neighboring family’s well.

Although college officials said they were still reviewing the petition on Friday, they indicated in an interview on Thursday afternoon that they were unwilling to meet some of its demands.

In addition to Spiegel, many other people affiliated with Dartmouth signed the petition, including several high-profile doctors, scholars and scientists.

Just last month, college contractors found bags of animal carcasses still in the ground at the rural Hanover dump site. They soon will submit to state regulators a plan to deal with the remaining waste.

This discovery, the neighbors said in their letter, “support(s) our grave concern that the earlier remediation effort was not complete, and that significant, persistent sources of contamination remain evident on site.”

Residents say Dartmouth’s plan should include an excavation of the whole one-acre burial ground down to bedrock, the removal of human cadavers present nearby, water monitoring around the entire perimeter of the farm, a periodic testing program for all chemicals and radionuclides originally present at the farm, treatment of the underground plume, and “timely and accurate public access” to future testing and remediation information.

But college officials, in an interview at the site Thursday, said they envisioned a much narrower scope.

When Dartmouth’s contractors finished their dig in 2011, they backfilled with dirt they had removed from the site.

Rather than re-excavate the full acre, administrators said, they would target a small area around the burial plot where waste was discovered in June.

Instead of installing monitoring wells all around the site, they preferred to test water only in the areas where they believe it naturally runs off the hill.

And as for the medical cadavers, officials said, the college needs permission from a judge to dig them up.

“You need to have a good reason, and not just an intuition,” Ellen Arnold, Dartmouth’s associate general counsel for campus services, said on Thursday.

The administrators present at Thursday’s site visit said they were committed to a quick and thorough cleanup. To that end, they said, Dartmouth plans to install a system of water pumps that will siphon away the chemical plume that entered a neighboring well.

“Dartmouth and the state are committed to solving this problem,” said Michael Cimis, senior associate director of environmental health and safety.

Jim Wieck, senior project manager for GZA GeoEnvironmental, the college’s environmental contractor, said he hoped to install a treatment system as soon as this fall.

Dartmouth’s plans are not yet final, as they must first be approved by New Hampshire regulators.

On Friday, Paul Rydel, the state Department of Environmental Services official handling the case, said he was still reviewing the petition. He said his office was preparing a “thorough response” that would be available soon.

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

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