Neighbors of property where for years Dartmouth College disposed of mice and other small animals used in science experiments say they fear pollution has contaminated their groundwater. The site has contaminated the water of at least one family, Richard and Debbie Higgins, who blame a variety of health problems on it, including rashes, hair and skin loss, and dizziness. Even their dogs were affected, they say, with one urinating blood and another vomiting. "We have been drinking the water for years and we had no idea, absolutely no idea," Debbie Higgins tells the AP. Few residents even knew the half-acre plot on 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 human cadavers and stillborn fetuses used in medical classes.
Dartmouth cleaned the site up in 2011, removing 40 tons of carcasses and soil from unlined pits that were legal at the time they were dug. That led to the discovery of hazardous waste and low-level radioactive materials and evidence that at least one chemical used in experiments, suspected carcinogen 1,4-dioxane, had leaked into groundwater. It was found to have contaminated the Higginses' well 800 feet away at twice the state standard. Dartmouth apologized in September, established a neighborhood advisory panel and sampled 110 drinking wells; no others have tested positive. "We are committed to protecting the health of our neighbors, addressing their concerns, and communicating regularly," a college rep said of the cleanup, which so far has cost $8.4 million. But some want more soil removed, while others want Dartmouth to compensate them for their dropping property values—demands the college says it is considering. The Higginses say their health problems have mostly disappeared since the switch to bottled water. But they want the college to move them away. "We want to get on with our lives," Richard Higgins said.