By Jeff McMenemy
Posted Feb 4, 2019 at 5:53 PM
Updated Feb 4, 2019 at 5:53 PM
RYE - Former state Rep. Mindi Messmer will continue serving on the Commission on the Seacoast Cancer Cluster Investigation after a recent vote by Rye Selectmen.
Selectmen voted 3-0 to reappoint Messmer to the commission, even though she is no longer a state representative.
When she was a state representative, Messmer drafted the legislation that created the commission to continue studying the Seacoast Pediatric Cancer Cluster.
Department of Health and Human Service officials in 2016 determined there was a pediatric cancer cluster of rhabdomyosarcoma, or RMS, which several area children have died from.
While looking at the RMS cases, the state also identified “a small excess of pediatric lung cancer cases,” all of which “were of a single rare type called pleuropulmonary blastoma (PPB).”
Messmer is hopeful the commission will schedule a meeting in February to continue their work.
She thanked selectmen for their recent vote.
“I was very happy with it and I’m really grateful they saw the importance of having someone continually involved on the commission,” Messmer said.
In addition to the cancer clusters, in May 2017, state Epidemiologist Benjamin Chan acknowledged there were seven brain or central nervous system pediatric cancers detected in the towns of Rye, New Castle, Portsmouth, Greenland and North Hampton during a period when they expected to see 3.1.
He determined the cases did not represent another cancer cluster because the cancers were different types of brain cancers.
But Messmer remains concerned about the cancer clusters, the unusual amount of pediatric brain cancers and a determination in 2018 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that between 2003 and 2014 New Hampshire had the highest number of pediatric cancer cases per capita in the United States.
“We want to know what’s going on with all these cancers,” Messmer said.
In terms of next steps for the commission, Messmer wants to hear from the Environmental Protection Agency on what wells around the Coakley landfill in Greenland and North Hampton have been tested recently.
The work done by an initial task force on the Seacoast Cancer Cluster led to concerns being raised about contamination leaching from the Coakley landfill, a Superfund clean-up site.
Tests done on wells at the landfill have found PFAS chemicals and 1,4-dioxane - both suspected carcinogens - at levels above the EPA’s health advisory levels.
PFAS chemicals in Berry’s Brook at the edge of the dump tested dramatically higher than the EPA’s health advisory levels.
In addition, the state Department of Environmental Services detected 1,4-dioxane at levels above a new state standard at the Breakfast Hill Country Club and a nearby home.
“We need to take a look at Coakley, and what’s happened in the recent few months since the EPA shut down,” during the partial federal government shutdown, Messmer said.
She also hopes the commission will work with DHHS to get them to consider other ways to investigate possible environmental triggers for the pediatric cancers on the Seacoast.
DHHS sent out questionnaires but received a disappointing amount back.
“Maybe we can get more information from either community based meetings or interviews,” Messmer said.