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State official: Yes, there is a cancer cluster
Portsmouth Herald - 10/6/2017
PORTSMOUTH - The state epidemiologist and several members of the Task Force on the Seacoast Pediatric Cancer Cluster disputed the assertion that no such cancer cluster exists.
Steve Kenda, a North Hampton resident and past Republican candidate for state Senate and governor, is a member of the new Commission on the Seacoast Cancer Cluster Investigation. He stated in a recent op-ed that "there is no cancer cluster."
Greenland resident and activist Jillian Lane described Kenda's op-ed as an "alarming letter to the editor."
"That was extremely disheartening and disturbing to read," Lane said at Wednesday's task force meeting, adding for the families of children diagnosed with one of the two cancers identified in the cluster, "it was a horrible thing to read."
State epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said Wednesday the state Department of Health and Human Services "has called this a cancer cluster and we have been investigating this as a cancer cluster," adding, "We have worked very hard to try to work with families and understand their concerns and try to address them."
Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., was governor when she formed the Seacoast Pediatric Cancer Cluster task force in 2016 after state officials detected a small cluster of rhabdomyosarcoma, which caused the deaths of several area children. The state also identified "a small excess of pediatric lung cancer cases" of a single rare type called pleuropulmonary blastoma. Several area parents believe the cancers could have been triggered by environmental factors.
Dr. Tom Sherman, chairman of the task force, stated the term cancer cluster is "not a name that somebody came up with. It's a designation that is defined by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)."
He applauded DHHS for "doing a very thorough investigation of the cancer registry and doing a statistical evaluation," which resulted in the pediatric cancers meeting the requirements of a cancer cluster. "This isn't a subjective term," Sherman added.
Paula Skelley's 9-year-old daughter Lydia Valdez, a Portsmouth elementary school student, died from cancer in 2013. She has called for Kenda to resign from the new commission. Skelley repeated that call at Wednesday's meeting. She also criticized Republican Gov. Chris Sununu for appointing him.
"I am dumbfounded that Kenda who does not believe there's a cancer cluster in the New Hampshire Seacoast was appointed (to the commission) when more involved, engaged and informed candidates were overlooked," Skelley said in the letter.
Sununu was asked by the Portsmouth Herald to respond to the call for Kenda to resign. In a statement issued Wednesday, Sununu said he has "spent a large portion of my career cleaning up hazardous waste sites and ensuring clean water for our communities. That environmental commitment extends to my administration, as evidenced by our commitment of nearly $300 million to clean water infrastructure investments. We put no greater trust in our government than when we turn on our faucet expecting clean water. One death is too many.
I am confident that the commission will review and utilize all of the available information and data as it conducts its work."
Sherman noted that once "you get into statutory commissions, I think you start to get political."
He stressed the task force has "been acting in good faith throughout this process based on a federal designation of a cancer cluster."
"Let's move forward and not backwards," Sherman added.
Kenda in his op-ed stated "the expression being used by politicians and the media, 'cancer cluster' is both misleading and inaccurate, incites unnecessary fear and does a great disservice to the hard-won reputation earned nationally by the Seacoast as a whole and I call on both groups to discontinue its use. I will be asking the commission to clarify its mission after reviewing the task force's recommendations. It is my hope that the talented group of individuals serving on the commission can redirect their efforts to the promising area of improving water safety for our community. I call upon our federal representatives."