Dartmouth College settles animal dump contamination case

AP News
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Posted: Apr 19, 2017 2:24 PM

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Dartmouth College has reached a settlement with a family that said they suffered health problems from drinking well water contaminated by runoff from a site where the Ivy League school once dumped animals used in science experiments.

The school said Wednesday it agreed to buy the home of Richard and Debbie Higgins and provide additional compensation to the family "to reflect their investment in necessary accommodations in their home." It also is setting up a fund for the family's future health and medical-related needs.

"This will allow the Higginses to move on with their lives in a new location," college spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said, adding that details of the settlement remain confidential.

The college used Rennie Farm 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, a suspected carcinogen called 1,4-dioxane, leaked into the groundwater around the site — contaminating the Higgins family well and raising fears that property values in the area had been affected. 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.

The Higgins family complained their contaminated well was responsible for a myriad of health problems, including rashes, hair and skin loss and dizziness. Even their dogs were not spared, they said, with one urinating blood and another vomiting.

The family is satisfied with the settlement, their lawyer, Geoffrey Vitt, told Vermont Public Radio.

"This is a settlement that takes care of everything," he told VPR on Tuesday. "It takes care of any future health issues, it takes care of the emotional distress, it's A to Z."

The settlement comes two months after the college announced a program that compensates homeowners impacted by the groundwater contamination. If any of the 48 eligible homeowners want to sell, the college said it would make up the difference between the sale and the fair market value of the home or buy the property outright.

The college also is continuing to clean up the site. It completed construction in January on a system at the dump site to capture and clean 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.