Regional Report: Testing For Toxic Chemicals In Hanover Took Years

Jul 5, 2013

There has been ongoing concern about a chemical that was used in the Army’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, New Hampshire.

The chemical, Trichloroethylene, or TCE, is a solvent that had been used at CRREL for nearly three decades until 1987, when it was labeled a carcinogen.

For this week’s Regional Report, Valley News reporter Sarah Brubeck discusses a two-part investigative series published earlier this week on the cancer-causing chemical.

Hanover residents were aware of two TCE spills at the lab in the 1970’s, but the cleanup was limited to the chemical found in groundwater.

Brubeck says back in the early 1990’s, the community thought the TCE problem was taken care of. However, the testing and cleanup that occurred decades earlier didn’t account for the vapor form of the carcinogen.

“Come March this year of 2013, all of the sudden residents were told there is a TCE vapor problem and we need to test adjacent properties,” said Brubeck.

TCE vapor is found in soil, and can enter buildings through cracks and can contaminate the air. Vapor, as opposed to TCE in groundwater, is also much more difficult to detect. It’s also harder to determine where the vapor is coming from. Less is known about the vapor form of TCE, which Brubeck says accounts for the delay in testing.

One of the properties adjacent to the Army lab is Frances C. Richmond Middle School, located across the street. The groundwater was tested for TCE, but found to be at a safe level. Vapor contamination was never considered when building the school in 2005.

Brubeck says some were aware of the potential danger, but there was a communication breakdown.

“There was a Dartmouth real estate official who was raising concerns about soil gas, and TCE in the soil gas. Those concerns never made it over to the middle school,” said Brubeck.

The land to build the school had been donated by Dartmouth College.

Brubeck reports that the vapor testing from this past spring at the middle school turned up non-detectable levels of TCE. More testing is scheduled for August for adjacent properties to the lab.

Brubeck says she expects testing at the lab itself will continue for quite some time.