Officials question Fallon father's cancer cluster survey

FALLON -- A Fallon man whose daughter died of leukemia says the door-to-door survey he launched in the rural community southeast of Reno confirms there is too much incidence of cancer there.

State health officials say more information is needed.

Floyd Sands' 21-year-old daughter Stephanie was one of three young people with ties to Fallon to die of leukemia in recent years.

"Do the math and you're going to be startled," he said Monday.

But after a cursory examination of Sands' results, state public health experts said the data do not appear to back the claim.

"It's forcing us to make too many assumptions," said state epidemiologist Randall Todd.

Since 1997, 16 children younger than 19 who live or used to live in Fallon have been diagnosed with leukemia. No cause has been determined.

Sands complained about the investigation's lack of progress and has been harshly critical of state experts, especially Todd. He launched his own investigation in October.

He and a group of volunteers canvassed the town of 7,500 people and asked residents about the history of types of cancer that they and their family members had experienced in the past decade. He also collected data through e-mail and telephone calls from residents of Churchill County, which has a population of 25,000.

He said Monday the survey uncovered 27 cases of leukemia that are not included in the official investigation, as well as an assortment of other cancers.

"I think the survey confirms long-standing rumors in Fallon," Sands said. "I know it does."

But Todd said a lack of information on when the diagnoses were made caused him to believe that Sands may have improperly compared his findings to what scientists would expect to see in one year as opposed to over an entire decade.

The epidemiologist said that if he were to include adult and childhood cases of leukemia over a 10-year period, he would expect to see about 36 cases in Fallon and Churchill County. Sands' 43 cases, which include several people who no longer live in the area, would not be too far from the norm, Todd said.

Sands acknowledged that he doesn't know the date of diagnosis for most of the cases he found, but his survey asked for cancer histories dating to 1992.


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