CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Dartmouth College announced plans Monday to offer compensation to homeowners impacted by groundwater contamination coming from a site where the Ivy League school once dumped animals used in science experiments.
The school's Rennie Farm was used from the 1960s until 1978 to dump carcasses from "tracer experiments," in which scientists used radioactive compounds to see how things moved through life systems. A nearby site also contained remains of human cadavers and stillborn fetuses used in medical classes.
One of the chemicals used in the experiments leaked into the groundwater around the site — contaminating at least one private well and raising fears that property values had been impacted. It was initially found at 50 times the state standard of 3 parts per billion on the site and more recently as high as 600 parts per billion in the ground. The chemical has been linked to eye, nose and throat irritation and, in long-term exposure, to liver and kidney damage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Should a homeowner want to sell, the college said Monday that it would make up the difference between a sale and the fair market value of the home or buy the property outright. The college then would attempt to sell any of the properties it was forced purchase.
Forty-eight homeowners are eligible for the program including Richard and Debbie Higgins, whose well was contaminated. They blame a variety of health problems on the pollution, including rashes, hair and skin loss and dizziness. The college has not announced a dollar figure for the program, only saying it has the resources to cover what is being called the Rennie Farm Value Assurance Program.
"The program is an effort on the college's behalf to address neighborhood concerns about the value of their property," Ellen Arnold, the director of real estate and one of the lawyers from the college, told the Associated Press. "It is an effort to bring some certainty to the market, some stability to the market while the treatment gets going. ... It's completely an effort to be a good neighbor."
Some residents in the area contacted by the AP said they were unaware of the program, details of which were being mailed over the weekend.
"Until we understand it, I can't say whether they would be interested. I haven't seen anything on it," said Geoffrey Vitt, an attorney representing the Higgins family who is demanding the college move them to another location that is a safe distance from the contamination.
Peter Spiegel, a resident who has been trying to sell a piece of property a mile away from the site and wouldn't be covered, said the program doesn't go far enough.
"I think it's nice that Dartmouth has stepped up to the plate and done part of what they should do — find a way to compensate those people who are potentially affected by those contaminated plumes," he said. "However, it only goes part way because it doesn't recognize the secondary effect of the plume, the harm that it has done to property values in a greater area than just around Rennie Farm."
The program is separate from efforts the college is taking to clean up the property and address concerns about the safety of the drinking water.
So far, Dartmouth has sampled at least 110 drinking wells in the neighborhood; no others have tested positive. It also has offered 20 households bottled water.
The college completed construction in January on a system at the dump site to capture and clean the contaminated water. Wells are now pulling contaminated groundwater into the system and filtering it. The treated water is then being returned to the ground, a process that could take several years.