I'm not going to spend any time discussing the cluster's cause, or possible links between the children. I believe the State Health Division and others will cover that. The City has cooperated in every way we know, first as the steward of the municipal water system and later as we have begun to assess other City-owned facilities. Thus far, nothing has been found. We recognize that the Health Division's expert panel believes that an environmental link may not be found, due in part to the fact that the ALL found in this cluster is not typically caused by environmental triggers. Nonetheless, we will continue to cooperate in that search.
Our efforts have been focused on the children, the affected families, and public education. The City Council and I have formed a group called "Fallon Families First", comprised of local community leaders and social service providers, to coordinate these efforts. I asked my wife Jennifer to chair the committee, and they are doing a yeoman's work. Please realize that our city does not have a social service infrastructure. We are too small. So we have had to reach out to groups like the FRIENDS Family Resource
Center, the local hospital, mental health professionals, the clergy, the school district, the County and others.
Today there is a single source of assistance for the families, the Family Resource Center. Patient services are coordinated by the Nevada Health Advocates in Carson City, and hopefully soon with the National Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Chapter in Sacramento. Fundraising is handled through the Mayor's Youth Fund. You can see the white ribbons worn by guests here today, a suggestion by a mom of one of the patients. It's the latest step in our effort, and we plan to continue raising funds as long there are needs.
Fallon Families First recently held its first public meeting, a panel discussion focused on the disease itself. Local physicians, a mother of a stricken child, and a mental health professional, who people know and trust, helped answer tile questions weighing on the minds of those attending. Efforts like this will continue as they are needed. A series of informational mailings is also being coordinated with the County and the local telephone company. This week the City launched its first Web site. Part of this effort has been driven by the need to communicate about the leukemia cluster, and part by our desire to be generally more accessible.
So what remains to be done?
I can tell you without hesitation that the most frustrating part of this process has been the lack of information. People want answers, and I don't have them. The investigation is ongoing, but it's bound to take a long time. Where do people go for answers? I believe, in cluster situations like this, a clear sense of communication needs to be established early in the process. Perhaps if the State Health Officer declares a cluster to be in existence, that could trigger a federal/state/local partnership. The mayor's office seems to be the place people automatically go, but in small towns like ours we don't always have the information. I have assembled my own team of local citizens and other experts who can help the city. But in other towns, the mayor might not be so fortunate. I think a standard support team or ombudsman should be made available to towns like ours.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't speak briefly about the arsenic in our water. I KNOW the Senators are aware of this situation, just as I know the experts will testify that the arsenic is probably not linked to the leukemia cluster. But the two things have become linked in the media and in earlier meetings, so I feel we owe you at least an update.
Fallon's municipal water supply contains arsenic at levels of 100 parts per billion. The U.S.E.P.A. has ordered us to remove the arsenic, which is naturally occurring here. As you are well aware, the EPA standard has long been under review. It was 50 parts per billion. It was temporarily lowered to 10. Now it is back at 50. We have no idea where it will finally be set. For the City of Fallon it doesn't matter any more.
The City of Fallon, through its environmental engineering firm Shepherd-Miller, has begun pilot testing the technology we will use to remove the arsenic. It appears that a process called '`enhanced coagulation" is working best. We will finish the pilot testing by the end of May. Then we will design and site a treatment facility. Our goal is to have construction finished in time to comply with the EPA order, which gives Fallon until September 2003. This date is significantly earlier than any other public water system, and it's still not clear how much arsenic we will have to remove. Nonetheless, we are proceeding. And we are doing so without regard to costs, or where the money will come from. We leave also been in consultation with U.S. Navy officials about a joint plant.
My suggestion to this body today is that you make Fallon a test case. The issue of the EPA standards revolves around "best available science" and the fact that there is no "off the shelf" technology to remove arsenic on a municipal scale. Things like household reverse osmosis systems won't work on the scale we're talking about here. We believe that since Fallon is required to remove its arsenic more quickly than other municipalities, there may be benefits to those who follow from learning from what we do. Perhaps the federal government could pay for the cost of Fallon's treatment facility, in exchange for the availability of the science and treatment methods resulting here that can be utilized by all those who follow.
We're dedicated to treating City water. Others will have to address the many private county wells that have high arsenic levels. And all of us will have to respond to public education issues and outside media attention that now surround the arsenic. But with your help, we can put this chapter in our history behind us and focus all our energies on the leukemia cluster, the children and their families.
We must maintain our focus on these families. As I said earlier, this is a lonely time for our town. Many people want to speculate, many others are well intentioned in their scrutiny. Others are just curious. But when the camera lights are off and the media attention fades, our town will be left to care for our children and assess the long-term impacts of this unusual cluster. Your presence here today is a chance to change that. I hope you will be able to stick with us, and I thank you for taking the time to come here today.