HYANNIS, MASS. (WHDH) - In 2021, doctors diagnosed Jesse Tanguay with stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma when he was just 39 years old. His spleen and bone marrow were under attack from the aggressive cancer.

“By the time we figured out how toxic this was, it was very widespread,” Tanguay said. “I was kind of wondering what could’ve happened in my life that could’ve led to that because it’s rare to have at my age.”

Tanguay believes his cancer might be linked to where he lived. He spent four years in Hyannis near an airport and a firefighter training center. The foam once used at these facilities is now known to have been toxic.

“We suspect the fire department as part of their normal training activities started to use these foams in the 1970s,” said Laurel Schaider, senior scientist at Silent Spring Institute.

This foam was loaded with dangerous chemicals called PFAS, which have been linked to serious health issues for firefighters. Experts believe the foam could have affected the rest of the community by seeping into the local water supply.

“Some of the Hyannis wells are quite close to those fire training areas. The soil here is quite sandy and quite porous, so we don’t think it would’ve taken maybe more than a few years for those PFAS to have started to get into the water supply,” Schaider said.

It’s the same water that Tanguay and hundreds of other residents used to drink, cook, wash dishes, and shower.

“When you turn on the faucet and have a drink of water, you’re not really thinking about what’s in it or what could be in it that could affect your health,” Tanguay said.

According to the agency for toxic substances and disease registry firefighting foam has been connected to health problems including cancer, liver damage, infertility, and thyroid disease.

“It explained why I was on thyroid medication,” said Jane Walsh, who also has dealt with health issues after living in the area.

The Silent Spring Institute, a research organization in Newton, selected Walsh and Tanguay to participate in a nationwide study. The scientists wanted to see how the foam affected people who weren’t firefighters.

“I never would’ve thought they would’ve been using that foam on top of a water well,” Walsh said. “It’s an unfortunate mistake that shouldn’t have happened.”

Researchers tested more than 800 people in Hyannis and Ayer, where the foam was also used. They discovered that every single person had been exposed to the toxins.

“That is a marker. It provides a clue that we might be at greater risk,” Schaider said.

Many of those tested had high levels of the toxins which puts them at greater risk for serious health problems.

“I’ve already given my primary care physician all the results and paperwork from Silent Spring — of things I need to be monitored going forward,” Walsh said.

“It’s a lifelong diagnosis, so it’s something I’ll be battling the rest of my life,” Tanguay said.

Experts say anyone living in Hyannis or Ayer before 2016 should consider speaking to their doctor about PFAS exposure.

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