Chemical found in drinking water blamed for health problems in New Hampshire

Some are blaming a chemical found in drinking water for a number of health problems in New Hampshire, including a rare childhood cancer cluster.

Ron Demo told FOX25's Kathryn Burcham that his son, Steven, grew up on Breakfast Hill Road. As a little boy, Steven would play and dig for artifacts in the area, which included the rail bed that bordered his neighborhood and the Coakley landfill just beyond.

At the age of 39, Steven, a father of three and Portsmouth officer, was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), an incredibly rare cancer that almost always occurs in children.

"We were told it was Stage 4 and there wasn't much we could do about it," Rob Demo told FOX25.

For years, Steven's parents grieved alone, until this spring. State Representative Mindi Messmer said that's when people started talking about people being worried about kids with cancer.

Both State Rep. Messmer and Dr. Tom Sherman are involved with the governor's task force for the Seacoast Cancer Cluster. Messmer alerted state health officials when children were diagnosed with the same cancer as Steven Demo and another rare cancer, pleuropulmonary blastoma (PPB).

"There are some parents that have lost their child," Dr. Sherman said. "There's some whose children are very sick and they don't know whether their child is going to survive."

Parents around Coakley have expressed fears that the cancers could be linked to toxic chemicals found in wells near the Superfund site. They include 1,4 Dioxane and emerging contaminants called perfluorinated chemicals (PFCS).

"I think people are understandably concerned, nobody wants to find chemicals in their drinking water," epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said.

Dr. Chan is leading the investigation into PFC contamination for the state of New Hampshire. PFCs are found in every day household products and have possible negative health effects when concentrated levels show up in drinking water. In animal testing, the EPA says high levels of PFCs affect the liver, thyroid, and reproductive systems. They've also found elevated levels of PFCs in drinking water near the Pease Tradeport amd at homes in three towns near the Saint Gobain plastics plant
State health officials say the chemicals are cause for concern, but say there's no conclusive link to the cancer cluster or other illnesses.

"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," Dr. Chan said.

State officials have tested the blood of residents who live near Pease and Saint Gobain and have found elevated levels of PFCs in adults and children.

All residents with contaminated wells are being given bottled water or in-home filtration systems. The state is also working with Saint Gobain, Pease and Coakley landfill group to finance extending the public water system to the hundreds of homes that are affected.