Churchill County has sustained a steady growth of about 3% over the years and now is home to about 26,000 people. The population is expected to double in the next fifteen years. We are a progressive small community, boasting modern schools, a community college, an arts center and the most modern hospital in western Nevada. We have a mix of long time agricultural-oriented families, military personnel, young working families and retired people. Many people are born and grow old here with nothing more than average health problems, so the community is alarmed and feels helpless in the face of a childhood leukemia epidemic.
The community has reacted to this crisis in a quick and calm manner, working cooperatively together with all agencies in an attempt to find any answer or common link between the cases. The County Commission is very concerned about the health and welfare of not only our 26,000 residents, but also those that visit us each year as military personnel or tourists. Certainly, none of us are experts in the health field, nor are we research scientists. We have no choice but to leave the investigations to the experts. What we can do, have done, and will continue to do is support all scientific and responsible efforts to find an answer.
We have actively participated in Governor Guinn's investigation and in Assemblywoman de Braga's investigation. We joined forces with the City of Fallon and Churchill Community Hospital in development and distribution of a fact sheet (attachment # 1) that attempts to answer the most commonly asked questions about leukemia and what the community is doing about it. We also support Mayor Tedford and the Community Hospital in their individual efforts to assist the families of the victims with the Fallon Families First organization, and the health information center.
I, personally, have spent many hours in consultation with personnel of the University of Nevada, Reno, Extension Service to update and reactivate a drinking water safety program known as Nevada GOLD (Guard Our Local Drinking water). The University responded favorably and quickly by hiring a research specialist to locate and correlate all existing water studies in an attempt to find any possible cause of cancers in our local (outside the City of Fallon) shallow wells. Studies have shown that water from the shallow aquifer is variable and may contain Magnesium, Sulfates, Chloride, Nitrates, Fluoride, Arsenic, Iron, Manganese and other minerals above levels recommended by EPA. (Attachment #2) Nevada GOLD is also teamed with the local hospital to provide water sample bottles, instructions and transportation of water samples to the State Health Laboratory giving all well owners the opportunity to have their water tested for bacteria and heavy metals. (Attachments #3 - 7). They also are, rightfully, taking the lead in educating the public about drinking water safety.
Our local water quality, whether the causative agent or not, was immediately pointed to as the cause of leukemia by the general population, encouraged and perpetuated by the media. The matter has not remained local. We see copies of news articles from across the nation with headlines proclaiming Fallon and Churchill County to be an unhealthy place to live. This press coverage has resulted in damage to our community. People are turning down jobs, houses go unsold, business has declined, our sales tax revenues are down and we were recently listed as a depressed area by EDA, (Economic Development Administration). (Attachment #8 - 11).
One of the first questions raised by the general public concerned the use of chemicals and chemical processes in the county, and what regulations were in effect to assure public safety. Churchill County relies on the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection to issue any emissions and/or discharge permits relative to any business or industry that locates in our county. The only county requirement other than proper zoning, until recently, was a business license. Out of concern for the health and well being of our citizens we now require a Special Use Permit. This helps county officials and haz-mat experts know what chemicals are being used in the community. The information required for a Special Use Permit is also intended to assist emergency responders, if the need should arise.
We asked ourselves, what has changed in the community since the early 1990's? Several things emerged. We have no way of knowing which, if any, of them singly or in combination are to blame until more research is done. Less irrigation water in the valley to recharge our shallow aquifers: Are toxins building up in the shallow aquifer? More people on one-acre lots: Are deep soil disturbances related to building, more fertilizers and pesticides used for landscaping and lawns, or nitrates from septic leach lines to blame? The 1997 flood: Was more Mercury or some other toxin that had previously been undisturbed released into the Carson River to end up in Lahontan Valley? The Gulf War: Was some toxic or carcinogenic substance introduced to the community when personnel and/or equipment returning from the war came to NAS Fallon? Transportation of hazardous material: How much hazardous material is being transported through the City of Fallon in trucks traveling the Highway 95 North/South route, and is it properly contained? Petroleum based products: Were there changes made to the chemical formulations of fuels, paints, tars, asphalt, fertilizers, lubricants, etc?
We are anxious to locate and take reasonable corrective action for any environmental cause that may be found to contribute to the incidence of leukemia or like diseases in our community. A thorough and accurate scientific study of all possibilities will take many years and millions of dollars. The medical experts have already expended many resources examining the patients and their families. The community, and individuals have lent their support. The State of Nevada is considering committing money. Now I will ask you to do the same.
• First and foremost is the proper health care for victims of leukemia and related illnesses. Provide special assistance funds to be administered through Social Service programs or special insurance underwriting.
• We need to have thorough scientific research underwritten by Federal Grants. The studies should seek out information on leukemia trends before the cluster appeared for the sake of comparison. There is no doubt that information gathered and analyzed in this area will provide benefit for other areas also.
• Grants to the University of Nevada and Churchill Community Hospital that will enable them to continue public education programs in drinking water safety and nutrition and disease prevention is essential.
• Provide low interest, long-term loans to small business affected by loss of sales through the leukemia scare.
If water is identified as the cause of ANY health risk to our citizens we need federal help to build a system to bring safe water to those who live outside the city limits of Fallon. County Commissioners have been considering this for a long time and have developed a plan for the system including a source of supply. (A Draft Copy of the plan was delivered to Senator Reid in the fall of 2000). The estimated total cost is in the $200,000,000 - $250,000,000 range, obviously far beyond the means of a small community, even if our population doubles as predicted. We know the government is developing a plan to assist small community water systems for towns under 10,000 population. Our population outside the City of Fallon is about 16,000, too large to qualify for that assistance, leaving the people who reside in rural Churchill County in a "no win" situation at this time. As a side note, for many years qualified Veterans have not been able to exercise their right to guaranteed home loans in this area because of the water quality. We urge the federal government to look at ways to assist areas such as ours to develop safe water supplies.
• In the short term, federal assistance to help residents with the cost of testing all existing domestic wells and installing treatment systems if the water test results deem a system necessary, would be a blessing to this community. It is estimated that there are about 4500 domestic wells in use at this time, and complete water analysis costs about $120 or more per sample. Cost of various in-home treatment systems range from several hundred to several thousand dollars, amounts beyond the means of many homeowners.
Churchill County Commissioners have approved a proposed hazardous materials by-pass route for this community, with the idea of beginning to acquire rights-of-way for future construction. (Attachment #12) At this time all trucks that travel north/south on US 95 must travel about a mile through the city, turn 90 degrees, travel three blocks and turn 90 degrees again on the three busiest streets in town. There are no truck stops on this stretch of highway for several hundred miles, so hungry, tired truckers must stop beside the street in town where thousands of people pass by. This route is very near four schools. The east/west route is US 50, straight through the heart of town, and passes near two schools and the hospital. If hazardous waste transportation should prove to cause ANY health hazard to our community the federal government would be obligated to provide assistance to build a route that keeps the threat of exposure to a minimum.
On behalf of the Churchill County Commissioners, I thank you for taking time to listen to our concerns and ideas. We sincerely hope that you will be able to assist our community in some way to ease the suffering of the leukemia victims and their families and to help us find the ways and means to lessen or better yet, prevent more occurrences of this and other cancers. 1