Date: December 20, 2023


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DHHS Announces Approval of Contract to Support Investigation of Cancer Rates in Merrimack, NH

Concord, NH – Today, the New Hampshire Executive Council approved a $500,000 contract between the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Dartmouth College that will support an investigation into factors that may be impacting kidney cancer rates in Merrimack, New Hampshire. 

The study will build on a recent DHHS analysis, which found that there were more cases of kidney cancer among Merrimack residents between 2009 and 2018 than would typically be expected among residents in a town of a similar size.  

“This study represents a key next step in understanding the potential reasons why kidney cancer rates in Merrimack are higher than expected,” said Patricia Tilley, Director of the DHHS Division of Public Health Services (DPHS). “The contract will enable the Department to leverage Dartmouth’s clinical and research expertise to continue responding to community concerns about increased cancer rates and giving residents the information they need to stay healthy.”

Previous analyses have indicated that Merrimack drinking water is contaminated with synthetic chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Exposure to these chemicals has been associated with negative health outcomes, including kidney cancer. However, there is currently no definitive link between PFAS and cancer in Merrimack and further study is necessary to determine if there is a common cause that might explain the excess cancer cases.  

The investigation will gather more information about potential environmental exposures, risk factors, and health outcomes in Merrimack. The results will also help to assess the need for a multi-year, detailed study that could provide more definitive answers about the causes of increased cancer rates in the community. 

The information-gathering process will rely on engagement with members of the community, including contacting people who live or lived in Merrimack and have been diagnosed with kidney cancer. The state legislature allocated funding for this contract in its latest budget, which was signed by Governor Chris Sununu in June 2023. 

For more information on the DHHS investigation of kidney cancer rates in Merrimack or to view previous reports, please visit the Investigation of Kidney Cancer in Merrimack, NH webpage.