Environmental testing on leukemia cluster begins in two weeks | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Environmental testing on leukemia cluster begins in two weeks

The Associated Press

FALLON, Nev. (AP) – State health officials are finalizing preparations for the collection of environmental samples in their search for clues into a Fallon leukemia cluster.

Collecting samples from the homes of case and control families will begin in about two weeks, officials said.

The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry are assisting in the process.

”The sampling team has just completed three days of training,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Randall Todd, who has been heading the investigation into the cancer cluster since July of last year.

”We are still trying to get a demo home lined up. We have several possibilities.”

Before NDEP and health division employees, who are collecting the test samples, can begin the project in actual case and control family homes, they must rehearse the procedure in a demo house, Todd said. The tentative date set for the mock sample collection is Oct. 3.

”This would be a full-on dress rehearsal,” he added. ”They will collect all of the samples. The only difference is they will not actually be sending the specimens off to a lab.”

One reason for the sampling team to practice the procedure, which has to be done according to strict guidelines, is to ensure that none of the samples from the homes become contaminated.

The National Centers and Disease Control is also collecting biological samples from the same homes, Todd said. That process began about two weeks ago.

The tests are aimed at comparing the case families with the control families to try to determine what may have triggered childhood leukemia in 14 former or current Fallon are residents. All the cases have surfaced since 1997 and the victims were all under the age of 19 at the time of diagnosis. Two have died since June.

Progress has been slower than hoped in part because random digit dialing to select control families is being conducted from the East Coast, Todd said.

After a family is chosen, a packet of information has to be mailed to them and follow-up calls need to be made, but with people’s work schedules, it has been difficult reaching some of the subjects, he said.

”These kinds of things are almost impossible to anticipate,” he said. ”We are making steady progress in a rather unprecedented study of the cancer cluster that in the end will give us a clearer picture of what has gone on in Fallon and may help other communities that go through this in the future.”

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