Jet Fuel Found In Fallon Tree Samples

Fallon Cancer Cluster
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An Arizona scientist studying Fallon's childhood leukemia cluster says chemicals found in jet fuel have been found in tree core samples.

Mark Witten, a toxicologist at the University of Arizona, said one tree core sample containing fuel was taken where an underground pipeline passes next to a school and the other was taken within yards of the Fallon Naval Air Station.

Jet fuel is a suspected cause of the leukemia cluster, although government agencies and the owner of the 47-year-old jet fuel pipeline that runs beneath Fallon have said the line has never leaked.

"There were major fuel spills at the naval station in the past and the pipeline is within feet of where the tree core sample was taken near E.C. Best Elementary School," Witten told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Sixteen children with ties to Fallon have been diagnosed with leukemia since 1997. Three have died.

Witten began investigating the cluster in 2001.

"The hydrocarbons found are not naturally occurring and one of them, naphthalene, is a bio-marker for jet fuel that has been used to determine human exposure to jet fuel in Air Force studies," he said.

The 47-year-old pipeline is owned by Houston-based Kinder Morgan. The underground line runs 63 miles from a tank farm in Sparks to the Navy base in Fallon.

"We haven't seen the results of the tree study, but we have never had a release from the Fallon pipeline," said Larry Pierce, Kinder Morgan spokesman, adding that the company is in compliance with all laws and regulations.

"Numerous agencies have ruled out the pipeline as a cause of the Fallon leukemia cluster," he said.

But critics of the probe by state and federal agencies maintain those investigations were flawed and did not include field tests to determine if the line leaked.

Jim Najima, chief of the Bureau of Corrective Action at the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, said he's interested in seeing Witten's results and discussing them with the federal agencies involved in previous Fallon probes.

NDEP records document fuel spills at the Navy base and a 25-gallons-or-fewer release of fuel oil at the E.C. Best Elementary school in May 2000.

Witten said more tests should be done to determine if jet fuel has seeped into the ground along the pipeline route.