College apologizes for water contamination

by Priya Ramaiah | 9/16/16 12:31am

Executive Vice President Rick Mills apologized for the College’s use of Rennie Farm as a dumping site for laboratory waste in the 1960s and 1970s at a public meeting on Tuesday night at the Hopkins Center.

The Geisel School of Medicine used the rural site as a burial ground for test animals. A 2011 excavation found that chemicals from these bodies had infiltrated the well of a nearby family. In April 2012, the toxic chemical 1,4-dioxane was detected in groundwater samples. Last month, the chemical was also detected in a nearby stream.

1,4-Dioxane is a synthetic substance used primarily as an additive in solvents and has been deemed a likely carcinogen by the Centers for Disease Control.

Mills said at the meeting that the public apology is the first of its kind for the water contamination. The next phase of cleaning the site involved installing a pump system to remove the toxin from groundwater. The pumps are scheduled to be installed by the end of the year.

This summer, 36 petitioners called for an expanded cleanup initiative from the College. The petition questioned why the College did not begin a remediation process until four years after the chemical was detected in a well.

James Wiek, a water remediation contractor for the College, said at the meeting that 2012 data had shown that the contaminant presence would decrease naturally.

Director of Environmental Health and Safety Maureen O’Leary said that the College is conducting a survey to assess whether or not the College had attempted to contact residents of the area surrounding Rennie Farm to gauge their health.

The public meeting, attended by about 60 community members, was called by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services following the petition by 36 concerned neighbors of Rennie Farm.

Correction appended (Sept. 23, 2016): The original version of this article incorrectly stated that the meeting had been called by College administrators in addition to local environmental regulators.