Fallon Unveils Arsenic-Removing Treatment Plants

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Federal, state and local officials Tuesday unveiled the city's new, state-of-the-art water treatment plant designed to remove arsenic from drinking water.

The $17.5 million plant will allow the city to meet current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards and enable it to comply with tougher standards set to take effect in January 2006, officials said.

"This is a new chapter for the city," Mayor Ken Tedford said of the northern Nevada community where a childhood leukemia cluster sickened 16 children since 1997, killing three.

"We can concentrate on the more positive issues and focus our efforts on maintaining a top quality of life," the mayor said.

Though arsenic is a known carcinogen, experts say there is no evidence that it causes leukemia.

Fallon draws its water from a basalt aquifer, where naturally occurring arsenic levels far exceed federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards.

Arsenic in the city's drinking water supply consistently has registered at 100 parts per billion, 10 times the federal standard to take effect in two years.

The new plant will bring levels down to 50 ppb, officials said, and meet the 10 ppb standard by 2006.

"With the opening of this new plant, Fallon has gone from the worst to the best in the nation in getting arsenic out of drinking water," said U.S. Sen. Harry Reid.

Reid, D-Nev., and Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., both attended Tuesday's event.

"This water treatment plant is a testament to the collaboration and cooperation of local, state and federal officials," Gibbons said.

Funding for the plant came from a variety of sources: $6 million in federal grants, $4.5 million from the state, $6 million from the Navy and $1 million from the city.

Naval Air Station Fallon, which draws its water from the same arsenic-laden aquifer, agreed to share the cost of the plant and will buy treated water from the city.

Designed by water consultant Shepherd Miller Inc., the plant is capable of treating 9.7 million gallons a day and should meet the community's needs for the next 20 years.

Officials add that the city's 2,500 customers will have to pay higher water rates to cover the plant's estimated $1 million annual operating costs.