Dartmouth Settles With Hanover Family Over Rennie Farm

Hanover — Dartmouth College has reached a settlement with a couple whose well was contaminated by chemicals from the school’s former dump site for laboratory animals, putting to rest the threat of a federal lawsuit against the college from the family.

Dartmouth says it will purchase the Higgins family home at 9 Rennie Road, near the Rennie Farm burial site in northern Hanover. Neither side would disclose the total dollar amount of the settlement.

The college also will pay compensation for the family’s emotional distress and create a health maintenance trust fund for Deb and Richard Higgins, who have reported ill health effects that they attribute to drinking contaminated water.

“When we found out … that Dartmouth had come to an agreement, it immediately lifted the weight off of us,” Deb Higgins said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “It’s huge. This is a big deal. The amount of stress that we’ve been under — it’s — I don’t know how you say it. We can breathe.”

The Higginses, represented by Norwich attorney Geoffrey Vitt and Weathersfield attorney Anthony Roisman, previously had threatened to bring suit in U.S. District Court in Concord under a federal law that allows private citizens to pursue polluters.

This puts an end to that potential case, according to their paralegal, Sarah Nunan. “This allows the Higginses to move on with their lives,” she said.

Diana Lawrence, a Dartmouth spokeswoman, framed the benefits in a similar way.

“This will allow the Higginses to move on with their lives in a new location,” she said. “It will also allow Dartmouth to continue to work on treatment and remediation of the Rennie Farm site, in conjunction with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, and the implementation of the value assurance program being offered to residents in the area.”

Ever since Dartmouth discovered a chemical called 1,4-dioxane in the Higginses’ drinking well in late 2015, the college has been running a filtration system to clean their water. Dartmouth also has offered medical advice and access to a new drinking water system that it is installing on the Rennie Farm property.

The Environmental Protection Agency classifies 1,4-dioxane, a chemical used in industrial and household cleaners and solvents, as a “likely human carcinogen.”

The Higginses said they experienced health problems — dizziness, sores on their skin — that disappeared when they stopped using their well water. The chemical appeared in the family’s water supply at about twice the state standard for ambient water quality.

Dartmouth, in its response to a letter from the family’s attorneys threatening the federal suit, denied that the contamination was responsible.

The 1,4-dioxane is believed to have spread from the site where Dartmouth’s medical school in the 1960s and ’70s dumped thousands of pounds of animal carcasses that had been used in radiological experiments.

Dartmouth in February launched a…

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