State expands scope of leukemia probe
RENO- The probe of 12 childhood leukemia cases in Fallon has expanded to include an investigation into the history of all types of cancer in Churchill County, state health officials said.
Also, the Navy has found childhood leukemia cases among Navy families and is now investigating whether parents from those families were stationed at the Fallon Naval Air Station, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported Wednesday.
”Should the Navy or anybody else come up with more cases, that could change the outlook of the investigation,” said Dr. Randall Todd, state epidemiologist in Carson City.
Preliminary findings of the overall cancer study show rates in Churchill County seem well within expected levels, officials said, but the rates of individual types of cancer are still being studied.
None of the 12 victims in the Fallon cluster, ranging from toddlers to two 19-year-olds, has died.
The state investigation has turned up three more cases of childhood leukemia connected to the Fallon area, all in former Navy families. But state health officials said they will not count those cases among the 12 in the cluster because they occurred before 1997 and one was a different type of leukemia.
”It doesn’t seem that those cases are related to this particular cluster,” Todd said. ”As of now they don’t represent an upswing in cases, but that could change.”
Those cases were diagnosed in 1990, 1991, and 1992.
”The area went for years with no leukemia cases,” Todd said. ”But it’s not until 1999 that there’s this explosion of cases in Fallon.”
The state’s decision to discount the three cases has left two of the families upset and confused.
”Why don’t we matter?” asked Kathy Minnis of Fruit Cove, Fla., whose son was diagnosed with ALL in October 1992 while her husband was a pilot at Fallon Naval Air Station. Her son, Matthew, is now 10 and doing fine after treatment, she said.
”I don’t understand why state officials are omitting kids from the study,” she told the newspaper. ”They have no clue as to what’s happening, but they limit the cases they will look at and the time period they will look at. It makes no sense.”
John Posey of Michigan, an aircraft mechanic at Fallon Naval Air Station in the late 1980s, said his Fallon-born daughter, Rachel, was diagnosed with ALL leukemia in 1990. She’s now 15 and in remission from the disease, he said.
”I called the state months ago and I never heard back from them,” he said.
Todd said the two families should have been contacted and he assumed someone in his office had called them. He said he called the third family, whose father also was stationed at Fallon from 1987 to 1990. That family lost a child to a different type of leukemia in 1992.
”It may seem the window of time we’re looking at is too slim and others may say its too broad,” Todd said. ”But there are reasons for focusing on the (1997 to 2000) window. There’s something significant happening there.”
A bill appropriating $1 million to investigate the cluster is pending in the Nevada Legislature.
A congressional panel will hold a hearing April 12 in Fallon on the leukemia cases.
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