Real Names: Dustin Gross, Zachary Beardsley, Adam Jernee, Stephanie Sands, other names unrevealed
Case: Suspicious Illness/Deaths
Date: 1997 to 2002
Location: Fallon, Nevada
Details: Fallon, Nevada, is a small town of just 8,000, fifty miles northeast of Carson City, Nevada. It seemed to be the perfect place to start a family. However, between 1997 and 2002, seventeen children in this rural town have been diagnosed with nearly identical cancer, three of which eventually would die.
The first case was of Dustin Gross in 1997; one day, his mother Brenda noticed that he had odd bruises all over his body along with little red blood specks on the surface of his skin. After his blood was drawn, doctors told his family that he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia that usually affects children between the ages of two and nine. It causes the production of millions of defective white blood cells, destroying the immune system, and can be fatal. Dustin immediately went under aggressive chemotherapy.
Over the next two years, fourteen more children contracted the same leukemia that Dustin had in the Fallon area, which is phenomenal for a town of such small size. Authorities believe that the outbreak is more than just a coincidence, and parents of the children are desperate for answers before more children become ill and possibly die.
Within weeks of Dustin's diagnosis, two more children came down with childhood leukemia. The cancer treatment facility at the local hospital was overwhelmed. RN Barbara deBraga feared that it was an abnormally high occurrence of cancer known as a cancer cluster, so she contacted the state assemblyperson from the Fallon area and an official investigation began. Dr. Randall Todd, the state epidemiologist, began an inquiry. At the same time, a fifth and sixth victim were diagnosed with cancer, so he tried to find a common denominator. He suggested an environmental toxin as a possible cause, but no leads panned out with that.
Eventually, a ninth case, that of Zach Beardsley, soon appeared. When he was diagnosed with childhood leukemia, his mother Tammi opened their house to a team of scientists, but no evidence inside the home suggested what the cause of the cancer might have been. There was speculation that something in the town might be responsible for all these cases.
Some possible causes included:
- Large amounts of arsenic and mercury in the drinking water in Fallon. This came from several nearby lakes and rivers, which were places where the children liked to play.
- Pesticides from nearby farms.
- Radiation from underground atomic tests that took place in the 1960s.
- Jet fuel containing the cancerous benzene, which was used at a nearby airbase.
None of the theories have been confirmed, and none of the toxins or other elements have been connected to any of the cases. Zac and Dustin's cancers are now both in remission; unfortunately, three other children, including twenty-one-year-old Stephanie Sands and ten-year-old Adam Jernee, were not so lucky. Doctors and the cancer victims' families would like to find out what actually is responsible for the cancer and if any other towns might have had similar problems.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the September 6, 2002 episode.
Results: Unresolved. A total of sixteen children from Fallon developed leukemia in a span of five years. This made the Fallon cluster the most significant childhood cancer cluster in United States history. For the next five years, not a single case was reported. However, a new cluster of ten childhood leukemia cases was reported in Sierra Vista, Arizona.
Experts now believe that ground deposits of cobalt and tungsten may have caused the outbreak in Fallon. Combined exposure to cobalt and tungsten can be carcinogenic to humans. Scientific research determined that the amounts of cobalt and tungsten were much higher around Fallon during the 1990s compared to other cities. However, this theory has not been conclusively confirmed.
- The Fallon Cancer Outbreak on Unsolved.com
- Fallon, Nevada on Wikipedia
- Fallon Cancer on cdc.gov
- Nevada officials: Leukemia cases tied to Fallon - January 19, 2001
- Nevada leukemia cluster probe expands - January 20, 2001
- Childhood Cancers Baffle Nev. Town - February 5, 200
- U.S. Senate panel looks into Fallon leukemia outbreak - April 12, 2001
- Lawmakers visit Fallon - April 13, 2001
- Nevada's Cancer Kids / Nation seeks origin of leukemia cluster in tiny Fallon - April 14, 2001
- Fallon leukemia victim, 10, dies - June 4, 2001
- Nev. town at center of cancer probe - June 6, 2001
- 10-year-old boy dies in mysterious Nevada cancer cluster - June 6, 2001
- Nevada Town Lives in Fear as Cancer Stalks Its Children - June 24, 2001
- Fallon Cancer Cluster Probed - January 9, 2002
- Another child with ties to Fallon diagnosed with leukemia - December 21, 2004
- Air in Fallon, Nev. has elevated levels of tungsten and cobalt - November 17, 2005
- Town Copes With Cancer Cluster - January 7, 2006
- Temporal Variability of Tungsten and Cobalt in Fallon, Nevada - February 20, 2007
- Nevada Cancer Cluster Not Coincidental, New Findings Suggest - May 4, 2007
- Fallon, Nevada's Deadly Legacy - May 9, 2014
- Two decades later, Fallon cancer cluster remains a mystery - May 29, 2019