Fight for Cancer and Chronic Disease Prevention

Approximately three years ago I became aware that children were getting rare cancers in my area. Moms were talking at playgrounds and in social circles about the children who were getting sick with cancers that had very poor prognoses. Personal family illness resulted in learning all I could about certain types of illness that have no cure. I enrolled in a program at Georgetown University that would bridge a gap between my decades of experience in the environmental consulting field and health outcomes. Based on this knowledge and my own personal belief that the cases represented a cancer cluster, in March of 2014, I reported the cancer cases to the New Hampshire Cancer Registry.

Over the following two years, I and another mother continually checked with the State of New Hampshire Cancer Registry and sometime in 2015, I asked for help in getting answers from the state from our House Representative, Tom Sherman.

In early 2016, myself and another mother were contacted by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (NHDHHS) and asked to attend a meeting in our town at the library. At the meeting, the NHDHHS told us that they had determined that there was, in fact, a cancer cluster in our 5-town area. The NHDHHS went on to say that they planned to continue to watch for additional cases of cancers but would not follow with any other action. Having a long history of environmental industry experience I was dumbfounded. I asked questions like are you going to test the water or the soil at their homes or try to find common links. The answer was no. The NHDHHS report was going to be placed on the state website. I left the meeting dismayed and did not want to witness a slow drip of cancer cases continue to develop in our children. If just one more case was identified I would not be able to live with my inaction.

The following day I made an anonymous call to a reporter from the Portsmouth Herald. I had been watching his responsible and detailed coverage of the Haven well closure and the coverage relating to the 1500 adults and 350 children who were exposed drinking water at Pease. His coverage of the Pease issue was careful and non-inflammatory and I felt that he would be the right person to call. I told him where to find the report on the NHDHHS website and the story was reported. This caused the NHDHHS to conduct public meetings in the area. Families of those affected were understandably outraged and concerned that they were not informed by the NHDHHS that the cancer cluster was identified until they read it in the paper.

Soon after, in response to requests from the affected families, Governor Maggie Hassan responsibly formed a Task Force to investigate the cancers.

Throughout the approximate last two years, the Task Force and the Subcommittee to investigate the Coakley Landfill Superfund Site has conducted over 25 meetings with regulators, scientists, and doctors. Early focus on the Coakley Landfill Superfund dump site, a decades old decision to cap an unlined landfill that was one of the cheapest options resulted in questions.

I personally spent hundreds of hours poring through historical information examining health studies that talked about whole families dying of cancer in Lafayette Terrace. I reviewed historical technical reports that presented information about toxins and how they flow from the dump and compiled the information into reports, attending meetings, working with state and federal representatives, trying to negotiate acknowledgment and acceptance of decades-old technical assessments that would result in favorable outcomes with state and federal regulators. This process has not been easy for myself and for people that live in four seacoast towns whose water is threatened the continued migration of toxins from the Coakley dump. There has been resistance all along the way to accept what should be evident.

In New Hampshire, we have faced resistance from public health officials, to accept health studies that show probable causation for various health outcomes and to provide recommendations for monitoring those who have been exposed to these toxins in drinking water. When assessing public health, it is important to use unbiased sources of scientific information. For example, we don’t want Coca-Cola maintaining editorial control over diabetes or obesity studies or Philip Morris telling us smoking is healthy like they did in the 1960s. Similarly, we don’t want our public health officials to criticize scientific studies that are editorially controlled by 3M, the manufacturer of the toxins.

Further, the state has not established firm guidance to physicians that summarize unbiased studies like the C8 Science Panel study, and do not recommend medical monitoring so that we can prevent deleterious outcomes in children exposed to contaminated water at Pease. As a result, parents of children who have unknowingly drink the water and have been turned away for medical monitoring, have been attending public meetings and advocating for action to provide guidance to physicians. We have a developing situation in Merrimack, New Hampshire where decades of potential exposure to these same toxins in air and drinking water is coming to light. In the seacoast, we are attempting to prevent further exposures in Greenland, Rye, North Hampton and Hampton through advocacy for public water lines and regulator acceptance of technical issues.

I understand that this may be difficult for some to understand if they have not been engaged or paying attention to these issues over the last two years. Some may not understand the root of some of my recent public boldness in this area. However, as a mother myself, I understand the plight of these mothers and families who are concerned about the health of their children. I hear the frustration they feel trying to advocate for their children within the system. I have participated and attended many meetings and listened to their stories. They are courageous and articulate and each of developed a wealth of knowledge on the issues. Sometimes it takes bold action to move the process past a barrier. I do not regret any of the actions I have taken in this process; I use and take my role seriously as a representative of the people.

The members of the Task Force, who are not paid for their service, have performed a thorough and vital task identifying potential environmental triggers that exist in our area. Each and every one of them has played a critical role in this process and the Task Force has accomplished a lot. Although much has been accomplished, there is much more to be done. I have every confidence in the Chairman, that I recommended the Speaker of the House appoint, will keep the Commission on track, and continue the important work of the Task Force.

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