News Feature | January 5, 2017

Dartmouth's Dead Mice Raise Drinking Water Concerns

Dominique 'Peak' Johnson

By Peak Johnson


Residents living near Dartmouth College are fearful that pollution from the Ivy League school has contaminated their groundwater, stemming from mice and other small animals that have been used in science experiments.

The Associated Press reported in a story published by The Boston Globe that some neighbors of the college in New Hampshire “knew the half-acre plot on the college’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.”

When Dartmouth decided to clean the area, “it removed 40 tons of carcasses and soil from scores of unlined pits that were legal at the time they were dug.” This led to the discovery of hazardous waste, radioactive materials, and evidence that led to a chemical that was used in animal experiments. The carcinogen 1,4-dioxane had leaked into the groundwater.

Originally the compound was located at 50 times the state standard of 3 ppb and recently as high 600 ppb in the ground. According to the U.S. EPA, the chemical has been linked “to eye, nose and throat irritation and, in long-term exposure, to liver and kidney damage.”

Residents believe that an alert about the contamination should have been sent out to them earlier. Both New Hampshire environmental and Dartmouth officials said that “initial test showed the levels of 1,4-dioxane were declining on the site and were projected to remain on the farm site.”

Dartmouth is working towards regaining the trust of its surrounding neighbors. It apologized in September for how it handled the situation, formed a neighborhood advisory panel and tested 110 drinking wells in the neighborhood, and offered 20 households bottled water.

The school has also finished building a system at the dump site to capture and clean the contaminated water. Once the system begins operating sometime the month, wells will pull contaminated groundwater in the system and filter it. The treated water will then be returned to the ground, a process that could take several years.

‘‘We are committed to protecting the health of our neighbors, addressing their concerns, and communicating regularly and openly with them about the project,’’ college spokeswoman Diana Lawrence told the AP.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Mouse, January 2013" Andrew © 2013 used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: