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State Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, and state Rep. Thomas Sherman, D-Rye, listened intently to a presentation by Gerardo Millan-Ramos of the Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday evening during a meeting of the governor's pediatric cancer cluster task force. (KIMBERLEY HAAS)

Cancer cluster task force peppered with questions at Portsmouth meeting


PORTSMOUTH — Just over 20 members of the public turned out in Portsmouth Wednesday evening to learn more about what officials from the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are doing about a recently recognized pediatric cancer cluster on the Seacoast.

During the second meeting of the governor’s task force created to investigate the cancer cluster, people expressed concern about the state’s standards for contaminants in their groundwater, and asked officials what will be done if test results show perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, in neighborhoods around Coakley landfill.

Last month, preliminary test results showed groundwater samples taken at the Superfund site contained combined PFOA and PFOS concentrations ranging from 71 parts per trillion (ppt) to 1,108 ppt, with all wells sampled showing combined PFOA and PFOS concentrations above New Hampshire’s ambient groundwater quality standard of 70 ppt.

The EPA is now awaiting perfluorochemical results from neighboring properties around Coakley. Officials say they expect those results “any day.”

During the meeting Wednesday, Gerardo Millan-Ramos of the Environmental Protection Agency got members of the task force up to speed, addressing how the EPA monitors groundwater at the landfill. He said numerous contaminants, including heavy metals, have been found at the site over the years.

The EPA actively monitors arsenic, manganese and 1,4-Dioxane — which is used as a solvent — at the former landfill, Millan-Ramos said.

Other possible sources of contamination were also discussed during the meeting. Seabrook’s nuclear power plant, which sends emissions into the air, was a topic of conversation. Representatives from C-10 Research and Education Foundation in Newburyport, Mass., were on hand to report on their data.

The nonprofit organization started in 1991, and has 15 radiological monitors in Massachusetts. Three privately funded monitors are located in New Hampshire at Phillips Exeter Academy, Hampton Beach and on the Exeter and Brentwood border. Executive Director Sandra Gavutis said the organization works with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to provide real-time monitoring of the nuclear plant.

State Rep. Thomas Sherman, D-Rye, a doctor who is the chairman of a task force created by Gov. Maggie Hassan, asked Gavutis about the results of the group’s monitoring.

“Are you seeing increases in detectable radiation at the times when they are fueling?” Sherman asked.

“Yes,” Gavutis said, reporting the largest incident they recorded was in 1995, when detectors recorded a rise in airborne emissions levels for several hours.

State officials in New Hampshire have finished their questionnaire, developed for people affected by the pediatric cancer cluster. Participants will be asked about personal health behaviors, medical history and where they spent a majority of their time.

The next meeting of the cancer cluster task force will be held on Aug. 31.

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