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article imageLab animal burial ground in New Hampshire has residents spooked

By Karen Graham     Dec 27, 2016 in Environment
Hanover - Back in the 1960s and 70s, Dartmouth College's medical school used a site called Rennie Farm to dispose of lab animals used in "tracer experiments," in which scientists used radioactive isotopes. Now, those experiments have come back to haunt the living.
In tales reminiscent of the ghost and horror stories told by young people around the world, Rennie Farm had more than its share. The fenced one-acre Rennie Farm sits on a partly wooded 218-acre property off Hanover Center Road in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Until 2011, according to the Valley News, most residents in the semi-rural community had no idea what was buried on a half-acre site on Rennie Farm.
Drilling at the Rennie Farm site during the winter of 2015-2016. This was necessary to check groundw...
Drilling at the Rennie Farm site during the winter of 2015-2016. This was necessary to check groundwater conditions.
Dartmouth College
But there were plenty of stories circulated through the community. Horror stories, from strange crop circles to piles of writhing snakes, along with corpses reeking of formaldehyde were told in hushed conversations. Actually, the circles were nothing more than colonies of fungus, and the snakes were just finding a warm spot in the basement of the farm house. But the corpses, well, that was true.
In the 1960s and 70s, Dartmouth College used the Rennie Farm site as a burial ground for lab animals used in "tracer experiments," where radioactive isotopes were injected into animals so scientists could observe how things moved through a living organism. A nearby site contained human cadavers as well as stillborn fetuses used in medical classes.
In 2011, Dartmouth began a cleanup of the burial ground on Rennie Farm, removing 40 tons of carcasses and soil from dozens of unlined pits that were legal to use at the time. But residents knew something was up when workers in full-body hazmat suits were seen.
In 2012, contractors discovered hazardous waste and low-level radioactive materials at the site, and eventually evidence that at least one chemical used in the animal experiments, the suspected carcinogen 1,4-dioxane, had leaked into the groundwater.
You can see the intermittent stream flowing from the Rennie Farm site in this Fall 2015 photo lookin...
You can see the intermittent stream flowing from the Rennie Farm site in this Fall 2015 photo looking East to Rennie Farm.
Dartmouth College
1,4-dioxane is a heterocyclic organic compound classified as an ether. It is also classified as a carcinogen linked to organ toxicity, yet it is found as a contaminate in as much as 22 percent of personal care products that create suds (such as shampoo, liquid soap, bubble bath), hair relaxers, and others.
The suspected carcinogen was found at levels of 50 times the state standard of three parts per billion on the site and more recently as high as 600 parts per billion in the ground. But the scary part about this horror story is the findings that the compound had migrated off the property 800 feet and contaminated homeowners, Richard and Debbie Higgins' well water.
The Higgins family blame the contamination on a variety of health problems, reports the Concord Monitor, including rashes, hair and skin loss and dizziness. Even their dogs were not spared, they say, with one urinating blood and another vomiting.
August 2016 excavation of animal burial site.
August 2016 excavation of animal burial site.
Dartmouth College
In September, Dartmouth apologized and established a neighborhood advisory panel as well as tested 110 wells, but no others tested positive. A college representative said at the time: "We are committed to protecting the health of our neighbors, addressing their concerns, and communicating regularly."
So far, Dartmouth has spent $8.4 million on the cleanup of the contaminated site, and they are still not finished. The Higgins family wants all the site cleaned up, and they just want to get on with their lives. Their health problems, for the most part, have cleared up after they switched to bottled water.
More about Dartmouth College, lab animals, Pollution, contaminated wells, Science experiments