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Fallon goes from pariah to pioneer

Nevada Appeal editorial board

The cluster of childhood leukemia cases in Fallon and subsequent nationwide publicity about the still-unsolved illnesses are something we would never wish on any community.

But Fallon has survived. Fallon will prosper. And its new water treatment plant, using pioneering technology to radically reduce the amount of arsenic in the water supply, is reason for the city to proclaim a new era.

No link between the arsenic and the leukemia cluster has been proven, but that doesn’t change the perception in many people’s minds – nor the fact that arsenic has a broad range of potential health hazards when people are exposed for a long time. One of the most common associations is with skin cancer.

Federal health officials realized the health risks more than 60 years ago, when they first set the standard at 50 parts per billion for arsenic in drinking water. Three years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency cut the standard to 10 ppb, and told towns to comply by 2006.

Unfortunately, the naturally occurring arsenic in Fallon’s well water has been at 100 ppb for decades. The city has been under orders from the EPA since 2000 to clean up the water.

So while the leukemia cluster focused attention on the town and rekindled speculation about the effects of arsenic in the water, the solution has been in the works for many years.

The new plant was expensive at $17.5 million, and it will remain expensive to operate. But as reporter Cory McConnell of the Lahontan Valley News wrote, it has turned Fallon from pariah to pioneer in the treatment of arsenic-laced drinking water.

Congratulations to residents for their patience and to leaders such as Mayor Ken Tedford, Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Jim Gibbons for their perseverance. It’s no consolation that hundreds of other towns across the West face similar challenges, but it’s a tribute to Fallon that it has put this one behind it.