Local Matters

Community Sponsors

January 27, 2012 - 4:12pm

Focus shifts to environmental causes for possible explanation of tics outbreak

posted by Howard B. Owens in Le Roy.

The search for a cause of a tic disorder in more than a dozen teenagers in Le Roy is moving toward a look at environmental causes.

The Democrat & Chronicle was the first to report that Erin Brockovich, Lois Gibbs and the Sierra Club are joining the investigation into what may have caused the tics, apprently not accepting the diagnosis of Dr. Laszlo Mechtler and others that the problem is "conversion disorder."

While other theories -- such as problems with vaccines -- have not been ruled out among those searching for other answers, the new environmental focus is getting a lot of play in the national media. Brockovich's interest has particularly drawn coverage.

On the vaccine front, Marcella Piper-Terry, contacted The Batavian today to offer her help.  Her site talks about "vaccine injury," and not just from the HPV vaccines.

We wanted to drill down a little more on the HPV vaccine issue and PANDAS, which is a strep-related neuropsychiatric disorder, so we called the NYS Department of Health and requested an interview with Dr. Gregory Young.

Jeffrey Hammonds, spokesman for the department, returned the call. 

He said HPV vaccines were ruled out because a majority of the original 12 girls have not been vaccinated.

He said he would get back to us on the details of why PANDAS was ruled out.

As for Brockovich, there are rumors that she will be in Le Roy either Saturday or Sunday.

The Southern California resident first gained fame as a paralegal (for the Westlake Village law firm of Masry & Vititoe) who helped initiate a lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (She lives in Agoura Hills, a tony community just over the Ventura County line in Northwest Los Angeles County. Ronald Reagan once owned a ranch there.)

The success of the suit, which resulted in the largest toxic tort injury settlement in U.S. history, eventually led to a popular movie titled "Erin Brockovich" with Julie Roberts in the lead role. (Roberts won an Oscar for Best Actress and the film, released in 2000, was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Director.)

In some circles, Brockovich is a bit controversial. Journalist Michael Fumento has been especially critical of Brockovich since 2000.

In 2003, Time Magazine published Erin Brockovich's Junk Science:

The suit, on behalf of Hinkley, California residents, focused on an ionized form of chromium called chromium-6, a rust inhibitor that was carelessly dumped by the giant utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, and seeped into the groundwater used by the town's residents. In bringing suit against PG&E, Brockovich's law firm charged that chromium-6, in addition to causing cancer, was responsible for disorders ranging from rashes and nosebleeds to lupus, miscarriage and Crohn's Disease in 600 of Hinkley's residents. The case eventually went to arbitration, and a panel of judges awarded residents a settlement of $333 million dollars, 40 percent of which went to the lawyers. For her efforts Brockovich received a two million dollar bonus.

And what are the facts? There is no doubt that PG&E irresponsibly dumped chromium-6, and that the substance is a carcinogen. When inhaled regularly over long periods of time, it can cause cancer of the lung and the septum. But current studies show that, ingested in the trace amount found in Hinkley's water, or in food, it's harmless. According to a 1998 Environmental Protection Agency report on chromium-6, "No data were located in the available literature that suggested that it is carcinogenic by the oral route of exposure."

According to the D&C, the environmental investigators -- including Gibbs of Love Canal fame -- and the Sierra Club will be looking at gas wells and alleged toxic dumping at the Le Roy school site.

Five natural gas wells owned by the LeRoy school district ring the junior/senior high school building, which opened in 2003. The wells have undergone the controversial procedure known as hydraulic fracturing, state environmental officials said. About 25 Western New York school districts own gas wells, though none have more active wells than Le Roy.

"We believe that it would be premature to draw any correlation between these tragic and unexplained illnesses and the gas wells on the school's playing fields," said Roger Downs of the Sierra Club's Atlantic Chapter. "But we have seen no evidence that these wells were adequately considered by the Department of Health as potential contributing factors to the illnesses in the initial investigation."


Rumors persist that the school or ground sit atop rock and soil trucked in from a part of Le Roy still suffering the after-effects of a huge spill of the toxic solvent trichloroethylene in a 1970 train derailment.

Mike Kelly
Mike Kelly's picture
Last seen: 5 years 4 months ago
Joined: Sep 1 2009 - 5:55pm

OK, take off your cynic, roll-your-eyes hat for a minute and think about this: The situation of the girls in the New York high school all with "tics", screams of past-life trauma. To those of us who have studied this (and yes, it is a study; there are several "closet" past-life therapists out there, psychiatrists and psychologists), it is a viable explanation. People tend to "come back", or reincarnate if you will, in the same groups, for a number of reasons. In short, these girls might have all been together in some other life, had a traumatic experience together, and something — an event, possibly seemingly insignificant, or perhaps just turning a certain age together — sparked a reaction common to their previous experience. Having them visit a qualified past-life regressionist, either as a group or individually, might unlock the door to their solution. Sounds ridiculously simple, yes, but why does it have to be complicated? — because a medical doctor can't explain it?

Since nothing else seems to have worked, don't knock it. It couldn't hurt, and it certainly could help. And so it flies in the face of all that the medical community holds true and dear, it is time we start looking into things not explained by a blood test, or suppressed (and certainly not cured) by a pill.

Humbly submitted,


barb king
barb king's picture
Last seen: 6 days 8 hours ago
Joined: Jan 29 2010 - 4:27pm

Mr. Serling will see you now.

Don Vickers
Don Vickers's picture
Last seen: 4 years 4 months ago
Joined: Jun 18 2009 - 3:20pm

"Rumors persist that the school or ground sit atop rock and soil trucked in from a part of Le Roy still suffering the after-effects of a huge spill of the toxic solvent trichloroethylene in a 1970 train derailment."

I guess the sores that I got while playing soccer in the mid 1970's at that location wasn't from raw sewage after all (like I was told). This is the first I have heard of the train derailment and the trichloroethylene being dumped there.

C. M. Barons
C. M. Barons's picture
Last seen: 1 week 6 days ago
Joined: Jul 29 2008 - 11:56pm

The EPA site narrative mentions "ex-situ soil vapor extraction," excavating contaminated soil and treating it in a negative pressure environment. It defies logic that soil contaminated with cyanide would be removed from a relatively isolated area and hauled in proximity of a populated area. There is a huge abandoned quarry within a stone's throw of the spill-site! I defer to readers from LeRoy who might attest to a structure built in the 90s to facilitate decontamination.

Here is the EPA report on the spill:

NPL Site Narrative for Lehigh Valley Railroad

Le Roy, New York

Federal Register Notice: January 19, 1999

Conditions at Proposal (July 28, 1998): The Lehigh Valley Railroad site in LeRoy, Genesee County, New York is the location of a chemical spill that resulted from a 1970 train derailment. The site consists of portions of Gulf Road, the former railroad bed, and the properties adjacent to the crossing. The site is in a rural setting, and the surrounding area is used for residential, recreational, and commercial purposes. An intermittent stream, Mud Creek, is located approximately 500 feet to the southeast.

The derailment occurred at approximately 3:30 a.m. on Sunday, December 6, 1970. Approximately 1 ton of cyanide crystals spilled onto the ground. The cleanup included the removal of the crystals and the overturned car. After the crystals were removed, neutralizers were spread on the ground to counteract the effects of any remaining cyanide. Trichloroethylene (TCE) was also released from two ruptured tank cars. A Genesee County Health Department (GCHD) engineer who was among the first people to respond to the accident and a claims agent for Lehigh Valley Railroad each reported in February 1971 that approximately 35,000 gallons of TCE had been spilled. A geologist hired by Lehigh Valley Railroad to investigate pollution resulting from the spill reported in March 1971 that approximately 30,000 gallons of TCE were spilled. TCE odors were noticed eight days after the derailment in the basement of the Knickerbocker Hotel, which was located 200 feet north of the crossing. Lehigh Valley Railroad tried to alleviate the odors by flushing the chemical out of the surrounding fill sometime between March and June 1971. The response action involved digging trenches near the crossing, pumping approximately 1 million gallons of water from a nearby quarry into the trenches, and allowing the water to percolate into the ground. The owners of two private wells located along Gulf Road east of the site noticed TCE in their water supplies about a week after the spill. Approximately one month later, TCE was noticed in two other wells located more than 0.5 mile southeast of the site. The TCE concentrations for samples collected from the affected wells in 1970 and 1971 ranged from 4 parts per million (ppm) to 171 ppm. By November 1971, seven wells had become contaminated. Lehigh Valley Railroad provided drinking water to residents with contaminated wells beginning in June 1971, and later provided the installation and maintenance of charcoal filtering systems at the affected wells.

In September 1989, TCE was detected during routine sampling of the Genesee County Campground well located more than 1.5 miles east of the site. Further sampling of private wells by New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) between 1990 and 1994 detected TCE in approximately 50 wells located east or southeast of the site. In December 1991, EPA began installing granular activated carbon (GAC) water treatment systems at 37 locations where TCE exceeded 5 micrograms per liter (?g/L), the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL). In October 1994, the NYSDEC installed an additional GAC system at a residence exceeding the MCL.

NYSDEC completed a Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) in 1997 that included a soil gas survey, soil sampling, and a hydrogeologic investigation. The results of soil sampling conducted in September 1992, December 1992, and October 1994 showed TCE concentrations ranging from 46 to 570,000 micrograms per kilogram (µg/kg); total 1,2-DCE concentrations ranging from 40 to 5,200 µg/kg; and cyanide concentrations ranging from 1.7 to 64.8 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) in soils collected at the site. The hydrogeologic investigation showed that there is a source of TCE contamination remaining in the unsaturated soil and bedrock at the spill site, and a ground water plume extending almost 4 miles east and southeast of the site. NYSDEC issued a Record of Decision (ROD) for the site in March 1997. NYSDEC selected ex-situ soil vapor extraction and bedrock vapor extraction as source control measures and a water-line extension to provide a safe potable water supply to all affected residents and businesses.

An observed release to ground water is documented by the chemical analysis of ground water samples collected from private drinking water wells in 1993 and 1994. Level I contamination (with a high of 3,100 ppb) is documented for 15 wells. Level II contamination is also documented for one well. The total population served by private ground water wells within 4 miles of the site is approximately 2,515. The bedrock aquifer is the only significant source of ground water for private wells in the site vicinity. The bedrock aquifer is not used for public supplies within 4 miles of the site. The nearest public supply wells are located in the Village of Caledonia more than 4 miles east of the site.

matt riggi
matt riggi's picture
Last seen: 7 years 1 month ago
Joined: Jan 28 2011 - 8:01am

Don- the way I read the article, and of course I could be wrong, was that the soil was brought in during construction of the new school. So it probably wasn't there when you were on the field.

Billie Owens
Billie Owens's picture
Last seen: 1 month 1 week ago
Joined: Mar 23 2009 - 1:22pm

Thanks, C.M., for posting the Federal Register notice. It is fascinating, and disturbing to see contamination 27 years after the spill, in 1997. I wonder if the public water supply for the vicinity stills comes from the Village of Caledonia?

C. M. Barons
C. M. Barons's picture
Last seen: 1 week 6 days ago
Joined: Jul 29 2008 - 11:56pm

The Oatka Watershed is a unique and important ecosystem in WNY. The Onondaga Escarpment (cropping of hard limestone and dolomite) that traverses from Detroit to Albany plays a major function in the hydrological peculiarities of the watershed. A little research online reveals some interesting information. The same rock formation that produces crushed stone products (historically, flint, that provided stone age technologists, Native Americans, raw material) also resulted in the gorge and falls in LeRoy, a major underground water supply and sink holes that influence some dramatic water table extremes such as the mysterious vanishing lake at Marcellus and partially explain the stretches of Oatka Creek that dry-up in the summer. The aquifer located within layers of impervious rock, is fed by groundwater that penetrates through fractures. There is also a flow pattern (illustrated by the TCE toxic plume) to the south and east. Caledonia is the only community drawing water from the aquifer, so yes, the plume will likely affect their water supply. When the underground cavities exceed capacity, the water table rises; as they empty, the water table recedes. Regional pools of periodic free-standing water (dramatically exemplified by the Vanishing Lake at Marcellus) top sink holes that have exceeded capacity. Gravity and capillary action that drive these dynamic hydrological systems also drove spread of the toxic plume. I'm sure the million gallons of water used to mitigate concentrations at the spill site exacerbated the migration.

...And this should be kept in mind when we balance the value of hydro-fracking. Take notice that NYS is suing a drilling company in Pennsylvania that polluted a NYS trout stream.


Paul Dibble
Paul Dibble's picture
Last seen: 7 years 7 months ago
Joined: Sep 29 2009 - 9:37am

It seems weird it's mostly (99%) girls in high school,that live in different parts of the area (LeRoy village/town), and it all started around the same time? No one else in the community?,older or younger?,teachers, their brothers?,sisters?,parents? at the least,they all eat the same food,drink the same water,shower in the same water,breathe the same air,etc. I could see maybe a flu shot or other they were all given,or something like that,but environmental? It's worth a look,but I would think more people would be affected,young boy's,girl's,men,women,and the elderly. I wish the families the best,and the kids make a full recovery.




Copyright © 2008-2020 The Batavian. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy | Terms of Service

blue button