SUNNYSIDE, Wash. -

The state Health Department held a community forum Tuesday night at Sunnyside to answer questions about a fatal birth defect that has been occurring in unusual numbers in Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties.

The Yakima Herald-Republic reports about 25 people attended the meeting at the Sunnyside Community Center. They asked the state epidemiologist about possible risk factors, including pesticide exposure or proximity to the Hanford nuclear reservation.

The epidemiologist, Dr. Juliet VanEenwyk, says there's no smoking gun. She says health investigators are still looking for a cause and a way to prevent the defect. It's called anencephaly and occurs when neural tubes fail to close at the base of a baby's skull.

Another community forum is scheduled Wednesday evening at the Franklin Health District office in Kennewick.