Cleanup efforts proceed at Rennie Farm

by Peter Charalambous | 8/3/18 2:30am

The College has reported a reduction in the presence of the toxic chemical 1,4-dioxane at Rennie Farm, a site in northern Hanover where the College was permitted to dispose laboratory animal corpses generated from medical research in the 1960s and 1970s.

Director of real estate and associate general counsel Ellen Arnold said that there has been a 46 percent reduction of 1,4-dioxane in the burial area and a 64 percent reduction down gradient from the Rennie Farm property following the College’s site clean-up efforts.

1,4-dioxane is a chemical classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” It has been linked to short-term health effects such as headaches, dizziness, nausea and eye irritation as well as long-term issues such liver cancer and other liver-related illnesses.

“We’re really encouraged, and continuing to move forward with that system, and hope we continue to see these kinds of results and get the site cleaned up,” Arnold said.

In 2015, 1,4-dioxane was detected in the drinking well of the Higgins family, whose property neighbored Rennie Farm. The family threatened to sue the College in federal court after experiencing negative health effects from the pollutants. They reached a settlement with the College in April 2017, in which, among other provisions, the College agreed to purchase the Higginses’ property. Another local family, Ivan and Olga Gorlov — two professors at Geisel Medical School — also claimed that their drinking water was contaminated by 1,4-dioxane, but the College has denied that contamination from Rennie Farm affected the Gorlovs’ well.

Arnold noted that the College has tested 140 drinking water wells in the area, and reiterated that the College has asserted that only one, the Higginses’, has been affected by 1,4-dioxane. The plume of the contamination site has not expanded, she added.

While the 1,4-dioxane is being successfully removed, the College is planning to begin monitoring for another potential contaminant at Rennie Farm following a new requirement from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services that they test for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a set of contaminants that has been connected to reduced childhood development rates, cancer and lower pregnancy rates.

Despite originally offering objections to the testing via a letter from a contracted consulting company, GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc. — which has conducted the cleanup efforts at Rennie Farm — the College has agreed to test for the contaminants in September during a larger round of testing for other chemicals.

“Our expectation is they’ll test a sufficient number of monitoring wells for PFAS to look at both what we call source area wells — wells near the release point — and the Rennie Farm site itself,” said Paul Rydel, an official for the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

The new testing and the current cleanup progress will not impact the College’s “Value Assurance Program,” which was launched last year to assist property owners who were affected by the Rennie Farm contamination, according to Tom Csatari, an attorney who is working to facilitate the program with the firm Downs Rachlin Martin. Under the VAP, if property owners living nearby Rennie Farm sell their properties at a price under market value, the College will reimburse them for the difference in cost. If a property has been put on the market but is not sold within 180 days, the College is required to purchase the property. By September of last year, the College had purchased five properties totaling 98 acres and $3.4 million in value.

Csatari said that there is currently one property on the market that is eligible for the program. As the property nears the 180-day mark since going on the market, the program may kick in this month, requiring the College to purchase the property. Additionally, Csatari said that he hopes to update local realtors about the progress of the cleanup project soon.

“We’re hoping to try to get together with real estate agents in a few weeks to try to bring them up to date so they are aware of the situation, so the word can get spread about the good news about the system working,” Csatari said.

While the PFAS testing is a new requirement for the College to undertake, Arnold said that the cleanup effort overall is going well and that the College hopes to complete its work on the site within five years.