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Cancer cluster task force member removed from panel

Union Leader Correspondent

October 17. 2017 11:57PM


NORTH HAMPTON — A North Hampton resident appointed to the Governor’s Task Force on the Seacoast Cancer Cluster Investigation has been removed after questioning the state’s definition of a cluster and recommending a name change for the task force.

Steve Kenda is a Republican who was appointed by Gov. Chris Sununu. On Tuesday, Sununu took him off the force.

“As with any commission, members should be free to express their viewpoints, but it is imperative that they do so with the understanding that they must ultimately work together. Unfortunately, Steve Kenda’s participation in the Seacoast Cancer Cluster Commission has become too much of a distraction, and therefore I have removed him from the commission,” Sununu said in a statement.

Sununu made the decision after a confrontational task force meeting Tuesday morning. Parents of children who died have been calling for Kenda to resign after he publicly questioned the existence of a cancer cluster in an opinion piece earlier this month.

State officials announced last year that they had discovered a pediatric cancer cluster in Rye, New Castle, Portsmouth, Greenland and North Hampton. The cluster was reported to the Department of Health and Human Services by a group of residents from Rye in March of 2014.

In the summary of their Feb. 2, 2016, report state officials said their analysis showed that there was a small number of excess pediatric rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) cancer cases — less than five total cases — in the five-town area of investigation, and that number was above what would be expected based on a comparison with the rest of Rockingham County. They also found less than five cases of a rare pediatric lung cancer called pleuropulmonary blastoma, or PPB.

On Tuesday afternoon, Kenda said he questioned state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan about his scientific determination that there is a cancer cluster on the Seacoast.

“There’s objective science, and there’s subjective science, where you can use an opinion. Dr. Chan has elected to use a value that would generate cluster status and I thought it was important to question it,” Kenda said. “I think it’s only fair to question the values we’re using.”

Kenda said he meant no ill will toward the family members devastated by the loss of their children. Kenda said he just wanted to help and believes the state should be honest with the mothers and fathers who hope to find an answer.

“I just want them to hear the truth,” Kenda said. It is his opinion scientists will never be able to determine what caused the childhood cancers.

Kenda said he also wanted to change the name of the task force to include pediatric RMS. At the same time, he suggested removing the word Seacoast, which caused a rift with other task force members.

“My objection was it was putting a cloud on the entire Seacoast, which I don’t believe is fair,” Kenda said. “The politicians in the room killed it.”

Since the cancer cluster was announced, state officials have received more reports of additional cases of RMS and PPB locally, as well as in Maine and Massachusetts. The Environmental Protection Agency has become involved, and water in the local communities has been tested for perfluorinated chemicals.

Environment Health Greenland New Castle North Hampton Portsmouth Rye

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