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Eighth Leukemia Case in Nevada

December 31, 2000

FALLON, Nev. (AP) _ An eighth case of childhood leukemia this year has surfaced in this small rural town where the drinking water was found to contain twice as much arsenic as allowed by law, a newspaper reported Saturday.

The cases are under investigation by the state Health Division, which is searching for a common link among the children.

``To see this many cases all of a sudden is unusual,″ state epidemiologist Randall Todd said in Saturday’s Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard. ``If there is something in the environment, we need to find it so we can prevent further cases.″

Since the investigation began in July, Todd said he has met with the children and their families but has been unable to find any common factors that could account for the cause.

The city of Fallon, with about 8,300 residents 60 miles east of Reno, is under a federal Environmental Protection Agency order to treat its drinking water. EPA officials have said they’re unaware of any public water system in the country with such a high level of arsenic.

Todd said it’s only a remote possibility that the leukemia is linked to local water supplies. The water sources aren’t the same for all the families, he said.

In his investigation, Todd said he read through scientific studies of childhood leukemia in Woburn, Mass., that were the basis for the book and film ``A Civil Action.″ The case was associated with women drinking water from two wells containing several contaminants while they were pregnant.

Todd said there was a small amount of arsenic in the wells in Woburn, but it was not found to be responsible for the leukemia there.

``Many times we don’t find any common factors,″ Todd said. ``The odds of this type of investigation yielding answers is not good, but the importance is high.

``We have not found an answer yet and there is quite a bit more work that has to be done.″

The latest case involves a 5-year-old boy diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia in November, the newpaper reported.

No one knows what causes childhood leukemia. Suspected triggers include radiation exposure, electromagnetic fields or volatile organic compounds, such as benzene, solvents and fossil fuels.

Arlene McDonnell, director of quality risk management for Churchill Community Hospital in Fallon, said some people have speculated about the effect of nuclear testing outside Fallon in the 1960s or activities associated with the Fallon Naval Air Station.

``Think about all of the products we live with every day that we don’t really think about,″ she said. ``There are so many things we are exposed to each day. ... It is way too premature to know anything.

``Statistically, based on our population, this is huge. Is it a coincidence, or is there a reason?″

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