January 26. 2018 9:02PM

Report: Cancer rates not 'significantly' higher among Merrimack residents, despite water safety concerns

Staff Report

The Saint-Gobain plant in Merrimack. (File photo)

Amid ongoing concerns over drinking water contaminated with chemicals from the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics plant, a new state report has found that cancer rates are not “significantly” higher among Merrimack residents.

New Hampshire’s Department of Health and Human Services looked at rates of 24 types of cancer for males and 26 types for females, using data from the New Hampshire State Cancer Registry. Public health officials looked at cancer diagnoses in Merrimack from January 2005 through December 2014, and compared the actual numbers with the “expected” number of cancer cases based on the state rate of occurrence.

For some cancers, the number of Merrimack cases was higher than the expected number, but officials said the differences were not statistically significant.

Of particular concern were the rates for certain kinds of cancer, including testicular, kidney and prostate cancer, that some studies have linked to exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

That chemical has been found in public and private drinking water supplies in several communities around the Saint-Gobain plant, and blood tests previously found elevated levels of PFOA in local residents.

The analysis released on Friday found that there were eight cases of testicular cancer in Merrimack during the study period, compared with nine expected cases.

For kidney cancer, there were 51 cases compared with 41 expected cases, but officials said the difference was “within the range expected due to chance or random variation.”

The same was said about prostate cancer; Merrimack had 198 cases compared to 173 expected cases.

For some kinds of cancer, including breast and lung/bronchus cancers, the number of cases in Merrimack fell below the expected number.

The report also outlined next steps. Public health officials plan to update and review the cancer incidence data, and to review and update healthcare providers and local residents as new information about the health effects of PFOA becomes available. The state also plans to work with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and with local and federal officials, to push for a national health study about the potential health impacts of PFOA and other chemical exposures.

Residents who have questions can contact the health department at 271-4959. The report can be read below.