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At First Community Meeting With N.H. Officials, Dartmouth Apologizes For Hazardous Waste Site

Rebecca Sananes
On Tuesday evening, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services moderates a forum about the clean-up of Rennie Farms, a former Dartmouth burial site.

New Hampshire state officials met with Hanover residents this week to discuss a chemical plume left over from a mid-century Dartmouth College hazardous waste burial site. The underground plume is threatening nearby wells and streams.

This was the first time Hanover residents, New Hampshire state officials and Dartmouth representatives were all in a room together.

On Tuesday evening, resident Duncan Syme took the microphone at the Dartmouth Alumni Hall to tell college officials their conduct in this situation is a poor example to their students.

“Dartmouth is in the education business. They're telling their students ‘maybe you can cover it up, maybe we can drag our feet a little, maybe we can put out public relations meetings’, and things like that but what they're educating the kids in is not a sense of morality here,” he said to the crowd. “That has to be the vision that's driving Dartmouth's solution to this whole thing.”

Syme’s comment was the only one that garnered applause throughout the nearly two-hour-long forum.

Listen to the full recording of the community meeting about the Rennie Farm hazardous waste site. Please note, there is a short break in the recording approximately one hour and 48 minutes into the meeting when the recording device needed a battery change.

Neighbors have been outraged since finding out a plume of the chemical 1,4-dioxane had moved off a former Dartmouth hazardous burial plot and into at least one neighbor's drinking water as well as a nearby stream.

Dartmouth's Executive Vice President Rick Mills opened the meeting with an apology.

“I want to apologize on behalf of Dartmouth,” he said. “There are legal standards, there are scientific standards, we'll meet those standards, we'll comply with them, but there's another standard that's important here and that's the standard of being a good neighbor.”

Mills continued: “For what's happened in the past, we haven't been a good neighbor and it took time to reveal that we haven't been a good neighbor, but I'm here as a representative of Dartmouth to tell you we know we haven't been a good neighbor and that's going to guide our actions going forward.”

"There are legal standards, there are scientific standards, we'll meet those standards, we'll comply with them, but there's another standard that's important here and that's the standard of being a good neighbor." — Rick Mills, Dartmouth Executive Vice President

In July, a group of 36 Hanover residents petitioned the state to hold this meeting and discuss the site cleanup.

They had asked for a venue change from the Dartmouth campus to a neutral location. Residents feared that it would bias the discussion and give too much control to Dartmouth.

However, the state declined to change the venue.

Marjorie Rogalski was one of the petitioners. She attended Tuesday’s meeting and said she worried about Dartmouth hosting the forum.

“Part of the reason I was upset about having it on this venue is it was Dartmouth property,” she said. “Unfortunately, the young lady that I had arranged to videotape the recording tonight — she's with CATV — she was going to record the meeting and post on their website. Unfortunately Dartmouth, didn't allow that young lady to come in tonight.”

The college policy requires advanced notice before filming is done on campus.

A Dartmouth spokesperson says CATV had not notified the college of their intention to attend which is why they were asked to leave.

Going forward, New Hampshire state officials have agreed to hold meetings about the Rennie Farm clean up in buildings off Dartmouth's campus.

Rebecca Sananes was VPR's Upper Valley Reporter. Before joining the VPR Newsroom, she was the Graduate Fellow at WBUR and a researcher on a Frontline documentary.
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