Concerned citizens make a difference
Oct. 30 — To the Editor:
Last spring, Rye environmental scientist Mindi Messmer brought the possibility of a local pediatric cancer cluster to the attention of the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
Within days of the DHHS confirmation of the cancer cluster, public meetings were held in Rye and Greenland attended by the state epidemiologist, Dr. Ben Chan, and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
To try to better understand the dimensions of this tragedy, Senators Nancy Stiles and Martha Fuller Clark, Representative Tom Sherman (MD) and I also held meetings with the various affected towns and with state officials in Concord.
Although there is no known connection between the tragic cancer cluster and the Coakley landfill (a toxic waste dump and EPA Superfund site) on the border of Rye, North Hampton and Greenland, Coakley was mentioned in all these meeting as a possible source of carcinogens. The problem with Coakley is that there are dangerous chemicals and chemical compounds sitting at the headwaters of three watersheds, which flow into Portsmouth, North Hampton and Rye. These three watersheds contain hundreds of private wells possibly putting these families at risk.
In the ensuing months the EPA and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) have been very generous with their time and information and have shown a willingness to explore new areas of inquiry directed by Senators Ayotte and Shaheen and Governor Maggie Hassan, with specific input provided by Rep. Sherman, Sen. Stiles and Mindi Messmer. Because of this, the inquiry has expanded to include PFCs (designated by EPA as contaminants of “Emerging Concern.”)
During the summer, Rep. Sherman helped Governor Hassan established a task force to study the pediatric cancer cluster and to recommend state action. As chair of the task force, he appointed task force member, Mindi Messmer to chair a Coakley subcommittee to make recommendations to the task force. He asked Sen. Stiles and me to join her.
The new subcommittee has met weekly with an interchange between a number of Seacoast residents and the lead scientists assigned to Coakley, Andrew Hoffman from NHDES and Gerardo Milan Ramos from the EPA. Messmer is directing the inquiry with intelligence, experience and hard work and the collaboration between these three scientists is extraordinary. Investigative reporter Jeff McMenemy of the Herald has followed the inquiry with objectivity and accuracy and has helped us all climb the steep hill of comprehension.
It could be different. We have all seen inquiries, which were directed by concerned but untutored citizens to beleaguered public servants with inadequate resources. As a result the former chases the latter down the wrong rabbit hole to the dismay of all.
Seacoast residents have abundant questions: Are our public water sources sustainable enough to replace all those on private wells? How can we monitor toxic plumes in real time? What are other chemicals of emerging concern in our groundwater? Sen. Stiles is concerned that we don’t know what leaked into the ground before the landfill was capped.
“We need to keep identifying what we don’t know, face the facts and try to close the gaps in our understanding,” says EPA’s Milan Ramos, “and it is going to be a tough trip.” So far the bus is being driven by the right people.
Source: Seacoast Online