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Dartmouth agrees to mediation with couple whose well water was contaminated by neighboring property

Union Leader Correspondent

February 24. 2016 9:11PM

HANOVER — A couple whose well-water has been contaminated by a nearby animal cemetery owned by Dartmouth College hopes to sit down soon with the college’s lawyers for a mediation session.

Richard and Deb Higgins of 9 Rennie Road were approached by Dartmouth in September and asked if the college could test the couple’s water.

Deb Higgins said the water tested at 6 parts per billion of 1,4-dioxane, exceeding state standards of 3 parts per billion.

The Environmental Protection Agency classifies the solvent as a probable human carcinogen and says exposure may cause damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys.

Dartmouth spokesman Diana Lawrence said in an email Wednesday that the university has been in constant contact with the Higgins since the contamination was discovered.

“We have provided the Higginses with a bottled water service and a water treatment system connected to their water well to address the potential exposure to the contaminant, provided household help for moving water bottles, etc., offered to relocate them, provided access to an occupational health doctor to answer any questions they might have about potential risks, and are working to provide them with an alternate or treated source of water to meet their needs and ways to resolve their concerns,” Lawrence said.

She said the animal burial ground was used by Dartmouth’s medical school from 1960 to the mid-1970s and operated under a state license. The school began groundwater sampling in 2011 “prior to excavating the site” for cleanup, Lawrence said. Groundwater contamination was discovered in April 2012.

“The data we had did not indicate that the contaminant was moving offsite,” Lawrence said in an email. “Since that discovery, we have been going through the investigative process that is set by the state of New Hampshire to manage that contamination.”

The Higginses said Dartmouth should have offered to test their well annually as soon as they excavated the site.

Their home still would have lost value when the chemical plume spread to their well, Deb Higgins said, but at least they would have had the peace of mind of knowing their health had not been compromised.

Lawrence said even though the Higgins have refused to be connected to a proposed well, Dartmouth plans to go ahead with plans for a community water system for the area.

Higgins, who is in a wheelchair and works from home, said that Dartmouth had charcoal water filters installed in October to filter their well water. But Higgins doesn’t trust the filters and won’t drink her well water.

In the months since, 1,4-dioxane levels have fluctuated between 5.6 and 6.7 parts per billion, Higgins said.

Dartmouth offered to put the couple up in a hotel, but it would have been more difficult for Deb Higgins to get around in her wheelchair, she said. Her husband, Richard, runs a landscaping business out of the home.

“My parents and other family members and friends built this house specifically for me. It took two years, nights and weekends, cause everybody has day jobs,” Higgins said.

No other properties have been affected by the plum contamination, she said, but they continue to be tested, Lawrence said.

She confirmed Wednesday that the college has agreed to mediation with the Higginses.

“We are just hoping that it happens in March and we hoping that we can come to some kind of resolution,” Higgins said. “We don’t want to have to go to court. We don’t want to have our lives hanging in limbo. It’s so stressful.”

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