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HEALTH Commission will work to reduce cancer on Seacoast

Portsmouth Herald - 9/17/2017

The recent coverage in the media provides an opportunity for me to discuss important issues relating to the Seacoast cancer cluster investigation. The work of the Gov. Hassan's Task Force to investigate the pediatric cancer cases is winding down. The Task Force was formed by Gov.Hassan in response to requests from the parents of the affected children. In March 2016, after two years of study, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) confirmed that there is a Centers for Disease Control (CDC)-Defined Double Cancer Cluster in a 5-town area of the Seacoast, which includes Portsmouth, Rye, New Castle, North Hampton and Greenland.

A commission has been formed by House Bill 484 and the first meeting is Sept. 26 at 11 a.m. at the Legislative Office Building in Concord. This commission will continue the important work of the task force. The task force is finalizing a report which documents the work completed and makes recommendations to the commission. The goal of the commission is to pick up where the task force left off and continue to investigate possible environmental triggers for the rhabdomyosarcoma and pleuropulmonary blastoma cases in children. Both of these cancers are devastating and difficult to treat with very low survival rates. DHHS also recently told us that incidence of pediatric brain cancers are more than 4 times expected in the same area. Another important commission was formed by House Bill 511, which is looking at ways for New Hampshire to become the first state to innovate tracking of environmentally triggered diseases before they become a cluster.

In addition to the pediatric cases, breast cancer rates in New Hampshire are highest in the country and highest in Rockingham County. New Hampshire also has elevated rates of prostate and bladder cancer - all three of these cancers are known to have environmental triggers. According to the National Institute of Health, at least two-thirds of all cancers are caused by environmental exposures. Some scientists estimate up to 90 percent of cancers are environmentally triggered, meaning any exposure outside of your body including lifestyle. All hands must be on deck to reduce environmental exposures and attempt stem the incidences of cancers in our children and our families.

The task force has been chaired by Dr. Tom Sherman, a gastroenterologist and until recently was chairman of Less Cancer. My work on the task force has been focused on scientific inquiry of some of the environmental issues that may be contributing to elevated cancers in our children in the cancer cluster. Since I have 28 years of experience as an environmental scientist I was selected to chair a subcommittee to investigate Coakley Landfill Superfund Site in Greenland. Most anything was dumped in Coakley between the late 1960s and 1985 by the Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the city of Portsmouth, other towns and a variety of others including private haulers and generators. Coakley and the former Pease Air Force Base have contaminated drinking water, groundwater and surface water within the cancer cluster area. We have learned that these and other important environmental issues require continued oversight by the commission.

I wish to thank Speaker of the House Shawn Jasper, for taking my recommendations for appointments to this commission. I have had the pleasure to work with and get to know each of them on the Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs committee and other legislative work in the State House. I look forward to continuing to work closely with Reps. Charles McMahon, Martin Bove and Philip Bean. House Rep. Renny Cushing from Hampton will also continue to serve on this commission along with Dr. Sherman and Rep. Pam Gordon of Portsmouth. Based on my experience working with each of these current and former representatives I am confident that the commission will continue to approach this very difficult issue apolitically.

Many private citizens have attended meetings for the task force and the Coakley Subcommittee and have played a vital role. Participants have also included some parents of the children in the cluster and residents in the affected towns. I will work to continue to engage the community in this process. The community has really come together to rally around the families of the affected children and these important environmental issues. I have no idea what the party affiliation is of the community members who have joined to work on these issues and it doesn't matter.

We have a public health crisis in New Hampshire; particularly in the Seacoast. Each day these families wake up to the feeling of being in a plummeting elevator with sick children or family members who are losing or who have lost their battle with cancer. I will continue to collaborate with anyone who is willing to work to address these issues both in the legislature and in our community. We must not just circle the flaws, but also identify and implement solutions to apply the brakes to this careening freight train. This is a job for all of us to work together, Republican or Democrat or other, without regard to party affiliation or political agenda.

- Democrat Mindi Messmer represents Rye and New Castle in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

 
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