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Memo: chemicals in NH water could cause cancer

by: Kathryn Burcham Updated:

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MANCHESTER, N.H. - Health officials in New Hampshire now say toxic chemicals found in drinking water in several towns and cities are linked to cancer.

FOX25 obtained a memo from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental services outlining the risks.

It’s a huge moment for people who live in towns like Merrimack, Portsmouth or Rye. They've all known they have high levels of these chemicals in their drinking water, but until now, state health officials have refused to publicly say if those chemicals caused cancer.

“I think people are worried about their kids and understandably so, especially in Pease and Merrimack,” State Representative Mindi Messmer said.

When Representative Messmer took office this year, dangerous levels of perfluro-chemicals, or PFCs, in residential wells across the state were the single biggest concern from her constituents

“There are health effects from exposure to PFCs,” Messmer said.

But that's something officials at the state's department of environmental services have refused to admit.

“It's very difficult to say if someone has been exposed to these chemicals what their risk is or whether they will develop any health affects at all from these,” New Hampshire’s leading epidemiologist, Dr. Ben Chan, told FOX25 last fall when asked about exposure to PFCs.

The internal memo obtained by FOX25 from DES says otherwise.

Just last week, the state's health risk assessment supervisor wrote that PFCs in drinking water are associated with cancer.

“I was a little surprised because I hadn't heard that from them before, in fact I'd heard the opposite,” said Rep. Messmer.

She says that memo finally gives residents who live near Pease Tradeport, Saint Gobain Plastics Plant or the Coakley Landfill the information they need to protect their families.

“I'm hoping that now we can move forward and prevent cases of cancer from happening, because really that's what we want to do, isn't it? We want to prevent other kids from getting cancer,” said Messmer.

In a statement, NHDES told FOX25:

The memo does not contain new information. (sic) The memo summarizes information contained in the U.S. EPA Health Advisory for PFOA and PFOS, which was used by the state to establish an Ambient Groundwater Quality standard of 70 parts per trillion for these chemicals. The memo is consistent with information communicated by both NHDES and the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services since the Health Advisory was issued in May 2016. The Health Advisory levels were based upon the best available peer reviewed studies, and are considered protective of the most sensitive populations against all considered potential health endpoints including certain cancers.”