Children in a small Nevada town are stricken with leukemia.
For many who lived in Fallon, Nevada, it seemed like the perfect place to raise a family. But there was something terrible happening to the children of Fallon. It all began with Dustin Gross. According to his mother, Brenda, she was giving her son a bath when she noticed bruises on his back and arms:
Brenda took Dustin to the local hospital and he was immediately transferred to the UC Davis Medical Center. Blood was drawn and according to Brenda, a diagnosis was made:
Brenda soon learned the seriousness of Dustin’s condition. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia strikes children, usually between the ages of two and nine. It causes the production of millions of defective white blood cells, destroying the immune system, and can be fatal. Dustin underwent aggressive chemotherapy:
Within weeks of Dustin Gross’s diagnosis, two more local children were also found to have leukemia. The cancer treatment facility at the local hospital, run by Barbara deBraga, was overwhelmed:
Barbara deBraga feared she was looking at an epidemic. It appeared to be what experts call a “cancer cluster.” She contacted the state assemblyperson for the Fallon area and an official investigation was launched. As the disease struck victims number five and six, state epidemiologist, Dr. Randall Todd prepared an all-out inquiry:
An alarmed Dr. Todd immediately sought a common denominator shared by all the victims that might explain the epidemic. However, interviews with parents produced no answers. And Dr. Todd watched helplessly as new cases continued to appear. Zach Beardsley was the ninth child diagnosed with childhood leukemia. Zach’s mother, Tammi Beardsley, was shocked when she heard the news:
The search for the common denominator continued. What did all these children share that might explain their illness? Tammi Beardsley opened her house to scientific investigators to help augment the investigation:
But these tests were inconclusive. Perhaps the problem was not in the children’s homes but in the surrounding environment. Was there something unique about Fallon that could explain why a cancer cluster appeared there? According to Dr. Todd, researchers began with the water:
Researchers also found mercury in a nearby lake and several canals—places where children were known to play. There were other possibilities, as well. Pesticides had contaminated nearby farms and underground atomic testing during the sixties had left traces of radiation. But according to Dr. Todd, scientists failed to link any of these factors to the cancer cluster:
There was one other possibility. Fallon is located ten miles from a naval air station used to train fighter pilots. According to Dr. Todd, the jet fuel contains benzene, which is known to cause cancer:
While authorities searched for answers, the parents of the children tried to remain optimistic. After two years of intensive chemotherapy, Dustin Gross celebrated his “end of treatment” party. According to his mother, Brenda, her son’s cancer was finally in remission:
A total of 16 children developed leukemia in a span of five years. Experts now believe that ground deposits of cobalt and tungsten may have caused the outbreak in Fallon.
External Link: The Nevada Department of Health