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February 5, 2012 - 6:10pm

Brockovich researcher said he feels obligated to finish what he started

posted by Howard B. Owens in Le Roy.

Bob Bowcock, lead researcher for the Erin Brockovich team, said he feels like there are still too many unanswered questions for him to walk away from further investigation in Le Roy.

He's coming back, probably with Brockovich, the week of Feb. 20 to continue digging for information and possibly take part in a town hall meeting with Brockovich.

"I've got to finish what I started because there are basic questions that have gone unanswered," he said.

Bowcock said his biggest area of concern are the gas wells on school property. He hasn't been able to get basic information from the school district about the wells and the gas that's being used in the school.

"Is there mercury in the gas? I don't know," Bowcock said. "If there isn't, then case closed (regarding gas from the wells)."

He said one easy way to get the answer is to look at the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets), which he said are public record and should be kept in a binder at the school. So far, he said, the district hasn't been willing to share those sheets with him.

When a reporter asked Saturday about the sheets, Superintendent Kim Cox said the sheets would be posted on the district's website.

Cox also said gas from the wells isn't used in the high school. Rather, it is used at the other district buildings at Trigon Park and Wolcott Street.

Bowcock acknowledges the DOH report on the outbreak of tics among 16 students at the school included information on a search of published medical reports that found only one case of mercury-induced tics.

The main thing Bowcock said he wants to do is get answers to questions and provide the community with information.

"About 50 percent of what we do is point people in the right direction," Bowcock said. "About 25 percent is education and empowering people to ask the right questions."

As for looking for a reason to file a lawsuit, as some have speculated, Bowcock said, "That's just not what we do."

He also said during his entire career with Brockovich, they've never been involved in a lawsuit against a public entity.

"We go after polluters, and big ones," Bowcock said.

There are questions Bowcock would still like answered about the school, such as: Was fill dirt used? Is the school built on a swamp? (He hadn't seen The Batavian's report dispelling that myth.)

These questions could be answered easily by the school district if the district would just release the reports he believes are on file about construction of the school.

If fill was used, he said, there would be a report on the origin of the fill. There should be reports readily available on soil tests prior to construction of the school.

At Saturday's meeting, Mary Ellen Holvey, senior industrial hygienist for Leader Professional Services, said her team reviewed a Level 1 environmental report prepared prior to construction of the school.

That report is now available on the district website. The report confirms the school itself is not built on a swamp, but there were unregistered wetlands to the north and south of the site.

In 2000, when the report was prepared, no environmental waste was known to be within a one-mile radius of the site. And though there had been an oil spill at 9200 South St. Road, the DEC determined the spill was properly cleaned up.

The report found no preexisting environmental problems on the site.

Bowcock said he's still trying to gain permission to do testing at the school and said an assertion by Cox that Bill Albert, with the law firm Harris Beach, asked Bowcock for a sampling plan that he hasn't submitted was inaccurate.

Albert, he said, is supposed to get back to him on his request for "a seat at the table" with Leader on what testing should take place.

"We need to at least have conversation, or we're just shooting in the dark," Bowcock said.

He said one thing that has hampered his efforts is the media misreporting the purpose of this trip to Le Roy a week ago. He said he wasn't there to gather soil samples. He carried a spade just be able to move dirt, rocks and brush to make visual inspections. The purpose of the trip was to do a first reconnaissance on the topography and check sites of possible contamination that people recommended he check.

He took three water samples, he said, just because he had the kits with him and was given permission to take the samples, but that wasn't a primary part of his mission.

The Lehigh Valley Derailment Site is an example of the kind of site he was asked to check out, and though he doubts the site is connected to problems at the school, he wants to know more about it and more about the TCE plume created by the wreck.

He isn't convinced, he said, the plume is moving exactly as the EPA has described it. If he's right, there may be area residents who are on well water when they should be on municipal water.

"You've got the largest TCE spill in the federal system and they forgot about it," Bowcock said. "I realize they have 15,000 sites, so I could understand them losing a few, but not the big one."

While Bowcock isn't beating the drum for an environmental cause, he does want to ensure that all environmental causes have been ruled out.

He doesn't agree with Cox that an environmental cause wouldn't discriminate.

He noted that Brockovich is allergic to sulfur and has a reaction whenever they go onto sites with sulfur, but sulfur doesn't bother Bowcock.

While saying it is outside of his specialty to talk about medical conditions, he questioned Cox's expertise to make such a statement.

"Environmental things do discriminate and they discriminate based on our individual genetic makeup," Bowcock said.

And with that in mind, he said he wants to finish his work in Le Roy.

"I feel a responsibility to close it properly," Bowcock said. "If it takes six days, six weeks or six years, it is what it is."

More documents from the school district:

UPDATE, Monday, Feb. 6, 12:56 p.m.: Le Roy Superintendent Kim Cox emailed the following response to Bowcock's statements. These two paragraphs are from an email discussing other matters.

I also wanted to clarify some misinformation contained in your recent article. Mr. Bowcock has contacted the District only twice, once through Bill Albert with a voice mail after hours on Wednesday evening and Bill responded on Thursday. At that time, he was invited to submit his work plan for testing and told it would be passed on to Leader, our environmental consulting firm, to take under consideration. Mr. Bowcock told Mr. Albert that he would not submit a work plan.

The second contact by Mr. Bowcock was a letter sent to me through an email late Friday afternoon requesting permission to attend our community meeting on Saturday. I responded through an email that he was welcome to attend the meeting, and I also let him know that I understood he declined to submit a work plan but if was reconsidering to let us know.

He obviously chose not to attend our meeting and I have not heard from him since that time. To be clear, he has not made any additional requests for information from the District, so I am puzzled by comments that he made to you that the district has been unwilling to share the MSDS sheets with him.

As we stated in our community meeting when asked about the MSDS sheets, we said we would post them to our website. Because we are required to maintain MSDS sheets for 30 years, there are many documents. We are working as quickly as we can to sort through those documents to separate the ones related to the high school so people have the relevant information. These will be scanned and posted as soon as that process is completed. In addition, these documents are public record so anyone who chooses can request seeing all of the MSDS sheets.

UPDATE Monday, Feb. 6, 1:36 p.m.: Bob Bowcock released a letter he's written to Kim Cox (PDF). (Note: this actually arrived in my inbox before Cox sent the email referenced above, but I didn't notice it until after posting the above update.)

Daniel Neal
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Howard - FYI , it is MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) , not MDSD , i have to deal with them all the time at work and school , they are in a big yellow binder

Jackie Kelly
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What is the official count of girls/boys affected? This is adding to the media frenzy, as some state the original 12, some now at 16. I know from your previous post the original 12, and that with 1 not being tested, 2 with previous causes traumatic events, and 1 with Tourettes from birth so 8 total girls. What happened with the boy, who was in the news recently, and now the other 4 girls? Are they now clumping the 36 year old woman in the tally? Although she stated that she was diagnosed because of 2 traumatic events. Now is the news going to get a tally of all in LeRoy with Tourettes and clump them in a high number?

Howard B. Owens
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As I previously reported: 16 students. Plus One adult. Plus one person from Greece. One of the 16 is a boy.

Michael Pullinzi
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Howard, great job on all the info regarding this situation. Your to be congratulated. The Batavian is a true asset to the Genesee Community.

Howard B. Owens
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Thanks, Michael.

Ron C Welker
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What happened to the two girls from Albany that were in LeRoy? The story seemed to be hushed up or discounted. Did they really exist and eat at a local resturant in LeRoy? My heart goes out to the people of this small comunity and the persons directly affected by this ordeal, will it ever end?

Beth Kinsley
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And I've read that there were students in Bergen last year exhibiting the same symptoms but nothing more about that either.

Jackie Kelly
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When Bob Bowcock visits in a few weeks will this will another media circus event, or is he communicating with the school to obtain permissible samples and actually offering help? Will they share samples or will he then do on Dr. Drew for more school bashing?
From his appearance on Dr. Drew he stated he wanted samples the first time, so he is not very credible in his comments. He also stated he could not obtain samples with the ground frozen as you caught him in this lie.
On Friday he stated on Dr. Drew that he obtained an email from a viewer who stated Ms. Cox was trying to contact him, he flatly denied this and stated Ms. Cox has never contacted him. He stated he is trying to contact her. Ms. Cox states she is trying to contact him, and he has not responded. Do we need to put these 2 in a time out chair and demand they talk! So are they actually communicating?

Jackie Kelly
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Be sure to check out Dr. Drew tonight as I understand the girls from LeRoy will be on there. They all got nice free trips to NYC today for the visit to his studio. So is the school counting this as a sick absence? It seems to me if they are having serious symptoms, a trip as that would be too traumatic. Should be interesting the things they dig up this time!

Howard B. Owens
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I just posted a response on this article from Mrs. Cox.

Howard B. Owens
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And I added a link to a letter from Bowcock to Cox.

John Woodworth JR
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Statements made by Bowcock: "He said one easy way to get the answer is to look at the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets), which he said are public record and should be kept in a binder at the school. So far, he said, the district hasn't been willing to share those sheets with him."

So, MR Bowcock does the MSDS hold the mystical solutions that, LeRoy School District does not want revealed? They are common accessible documents like you stated.

"He also said during his entire career with Brockovich, they've never been involved in a lawsuit against a public entity."

Hmmm, hench why they are trying associate the train wreck and natural gas to this issue. Their target has never been the school but, the rail company or natural gas company is different story.

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