Navy secretary promises cooperation in Nevada leukemia probe
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Navy Secretary Gordon England said Wednesday the Navy will cooperate fully with the state in a probe of a leukemia epidemic in a small northern Nevada town that’s home to a major pilot training base.
Sixteen people ages 20 or younger — all with ties to the military-agricultural community of Fallon — have been diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, or ALL, since 1997. Three have died.
A jet fuel pipeline serves Fallon Naval Air Station. Federal agencies have ruled the pipeline out as a public health hazard, but other scientists continue to investigate JP-8 jet fuel as a possible cause of the leukemia.
England said studies are continuing but JP-8 fuel is used throughout the world and there’s no data to suggest it’s to blame.
“If there’s a problem, the nation needs to know that,” he added. “If that’s a problem, we’ll find a way to deal with it.”
England, meeting with Gov. Kenny Guinn, was praised by the governor for working “hand-in-glove with the state of Nevada” to investigate the disease and to upgrade a water system because of higher-than-normal levels of arsenic in the Fallon area’s groundwater.
“We have the same interests that the governor has, and that is to find a cause if we can find a cause,” England said. “I don’t know if we can or not, but if we can we’ll certainly do whatever we can to fix the problem.”
While there’s a possibility of a war against Iraq, England said he doesn’t envision expanded training for Navy pilots at Fallon NAS. He said the training currently meets demands of a Navy fleet that’s operating at “peak proficiency.”
England also said there’s nothing unusual about current fleet activity that will result in four Navy carriers being in waters near the Middle East at the same time. He said two are arriving and two are leaving the area.
“I think it’s just a rotation phase,” added England. “I don’t know of any plan to have (all) the carriers stay.”
Asked about the dozen carriers now in the Navy’s 309-vessel fleet, England said, “Obviously we can always use more carriers. Twelve is about the minimum, but nonetheless it works well for us.”
England also said the Navy is planning for more ships, “but they’ll be different types of ships than what we have today. They’ll be smaller ships that operate closer into shore.”
England’s meeting with the Nevada governor followed a stop Tuesday for a conference in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he said the Navy is looking at ways to speed its deployment schedule and adapt equipment to better meet the demands of war.
He said the Navy is prepared to help fight a war against Iraq if the president gives the order, and his fleet is flexible enough to participate sufficiently in the war on terrorism.
But England added the Navy constantly looks for ways to improve its flexibility to deal with increasingly unconventional battles.
“We keep looking at how we can shorten our times in terms of turnaround so we can have more ships at sea,” he said.
Currently, the Navy has 309 vessels, and there are 41,278 people on 108 ships and 12 submarines now on deployment.
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