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Towns to be probed for clues into Fallon leukemia cluster

Associated Press

RENO — The search for clues into a childhood leukemia cluster in Fallon will take federal scientists through two other Nevada towns.

They plan to test Lovelock and Pahrump for tungsten levels to compare with high rates of the metal found in Fallon, a small farm town 60 miles east of Reno where 16 children have been diagnosed with leukeumia.

If levels are similar to those found in Fallon, then tungsten may not be a factor in the Fallon cluster, investigators said.

In Lovelock and Pahrump, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to test tungsten levels in the urine of 60 residents and take soil, dust and drinking water samples in 30 randomly-selected homes.

The agency plans to test one adult and one child in each of the homes, officials said.

In Fallon, a similar study involved 205 residents, including the families of leukemia patients.

“We were asked to help and we’re glad to do something that helps the whole state,” Peggy Warner, Pahrump assistant town manager, told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “It’s important to see if tungsten is everywhere or if the levels in Fallon are unusual.”

In December, the Gazette-Journal commissioned tap water analyses of samples collected in Reno, Sparks, Lovelock, Fernley, Carson City and Washoe County.

The newspaper’s tests indicated Lovelock has the lowest tungsten levels in its tap water when compared with Fallon and the other areas sampled.

Although tap water in Fallon averages about 25 parts per billion of tungsten, three tap water samples taken in different parts of Lovelock showed between .97 and 1.3 ppb — about 20 times less tungsten than Fallon.

Fallon officials said there are no plans to remove the metal from the town’s water supply because there is no maximum standard for tungsten in drinking water and no proof it causes health problems.

Scientists said dissolved tungsten has no known health effects, but little research has been done, especially in relation to tungsten levels and cancer.