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State Says Well Contaminant Not From Dartmouth’s Rennie Farm

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/24/2017 12:12:42 AM
Modified: 6/24/2017 12:12:53 AM

Hanover — State environmental officials have concurred with Dartmouth College that a contaminant found in a Hanover family’s well did not come from Rennie Farm, the school’s former laboratory dump site.

The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services in April determined that the chemical in question, an industrial and home cleaning component called 1,4-dioxane, likely came from the family’s own septic system — not from Rennie Farm, the tree-covered hillside where Dartmouth buried thousands of test animals’ corpses several decades ago.

“The likely source of the 1,4-dioxane detected in the well appears to be effluent from the wastewater disposal system on the ... Hanover Center Road property,” DES officials wrote in an April 14 letter to Dartmouth and the family.

Ivan and Olga Gorlov, medical researchers at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine who live on Hanover Center Road near the Lyme town line, disputed those findings in a letter held in state records. They said the 1,4-dioxane traveled to their property from Rennie Farm, which stands about a mile away, and accused the college’s environmental consultants of “highly selective” analysis.

“A more objective look at the data contradicts the conclusion that 1,4-dioxane came from our septic tank and suggests that the Rennie Farm site is the source of 1,4-dioxane in our well,” they said in an undated letter posted to the NHDES website in March.

Reached by email this week, the Gorlovs declined to comment beyond their letter.

The contaminant, 1,4-dioxane, is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a “likely human carcinogen” and appears in industrial solvents, laboratory supplies and home care products such as detergent.

Beyond its potential cancer-causing effects, 1,4-dioxane also can be toxic to the liver and kidneys if ingested in higher doses or over a long period of time.

The Gorlovs are the second family near Rennie Farm to report finding the chemical in their well.

The first, the Higginses, of Rennie Road, recently settled with Dartmouth for an undisclosed sum after threatening to sue the college in federal court. Dartmouth had taken responsibility for the presence of 1,4-dioxane in that family’s well, located a short distance downhill from the dump site, but disputed claims that the contamination harmed the family’s health.

In a 350-page report to state regulators in March, GZA GeoEnvironmental, Dartmouth’s environmental contractor, presented test results and analysis that it said pointed to the Gorlovs’ septic tank as the most likely source for the pollution.

When the 1,4-dioxane was discovered on the Gorlovs’ property in October, college officials and contractors said their operating theory was that the compound had traveled there from Rennie Farm along fractures in the underlying bedrock.

The finding raised concerns in the wider neighborhood that any resident, and not just those living in the northwesterly direction of the main underground “plume” of chemicals, risked contamination.

But in its March report, GZA said hydrogeological tests had revealed that bedrock fractures leading to the Gorlov well likely did not connect to Rennie Farm.

What’s more, the contractors said, several chemical compounds — antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals — found both in the well and septic system indicated that the 1,4-dioxane had come from wastewater seepage.

Tests in October uncovered 1,4-dioxane in the water well at about 0.3 parts per billion, or a tenth of New Hampshire’s current standard for ambient water quality. Similar levels were present in the septic system, according to GZA.

“Given the absence of a plausible connection to the plume, presence of 1,4-dioxane in many consumer personal care products, and the presence of a connection from the subsurface disposal system to the well, it is our opinion that the 1,4-dioxane in the water supply well at (the Gorlovs’ home) is not from the site, but rather from the residential septic system,” GZA wrote.

In their response, the Gorlovs disputed GZA’s conclusion that a major water-bearing fracture leading to the well could not have brought 1,4-dioxane from Rennie Farm. The family also argued that water from the dump site could have reached the well in other places.

Dartmouth officials this week said they were “pleased” to have found the source of the 1,4-dioxane, and noted that they had installed a groundwater treatment system at the Gorlov home after October’s discovery.

It is not yet clear to what extent the college’s support, which also included bottled water for the family, will continue.

“Although the situation with the Gorlov well is unrelated to the Rennie Farm site, we have offered the Gorlovs compensation for the inconvenience that the investigation has caused them,” college spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said in an email on Friday.

“Dartmouth is continuing to discuss next steps with the Gorlovs, but no decision has been made about what actions might be taken at this time,” she said.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727-3242.




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