Air in Fallon, Nev. has elevated levels of tungsten and cobalt

The air in Fallon, Nev. has significantly higher levels of tungsten and cobalt than does the air in neighboring towns, according to a new research report. The research suggests that the metals in the air come from a point source within Fallon, a community of about 8,000 located in Churchill County about 60 miles east of Reno, Nev.

The finding that Fallon's air differs from nearby towns might have medical implications. Since 1997, 16 cases of childhood leukemia have been diagnosed in children who lived in the Fallon area for some time prior to diagnosis. In a 2003 U.S. Health and Human Services report (http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HAC/PHA/fallonair/finalair.pdf) investigating possible causes for the leukemia cases in Fallon, tungsten was mentioned as "a contaminant of concern because it was elevated in urine samples" collected from Fallon-area residents as part of the investigation.

The metal, a component of tungsten steel and tungsten carbide, is used in tools exposed to high temperatures, such as drill bits and the filaments of incandescent light bulbs. Tungsten is naturally present in soils and rocks in Churchill County and other parts of Nevada. The metal was mined in the region around Fallon at various sites, including Churchill Butte.

"There are more metals in the air in Fallon than in other towns around Fallon. These metals are tungsten and cobalt," said lead researcher Paul R. Sheppard, an assistant professor of dendrochronology at The University of Arizona in Tucson. "The biomedical ramifications of tungsten are not really all that well known." He added that occupational exposure to cobalt has been implicated in lung and other cancers.

The February 2004 final report of an expert panel (http://health2k.state.nv.us/healthofficer/leukemia/FALLONexpertpanel022304.pdf) conclu

Contact: Mari N. Jensen
University of Arizona

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