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January 28, 2012 - 11:16pm

Specialist questions scientific validity of Le Roy district's environmental reports

posted by Howard B. Owens in Le Roy.

An environmental specialist from Los Angeles in Le Roy on Saturday scoffed at studies used by the Le Roy Central School District to say there was no environmental cause for a tic outbreak among a group of students at the high school.

“In my opinion, that (the reports released by the district) wasn’t even close to science," said Robert W. Bowcock (top photo), an environmental investigator with Integrated Resource Management, based in Claremont, Calif.

Bowcock said he was in Le Roy at the request of Erin Brockovich, a famed environmental crusader, but "working for free" to try and help uncover the cause of the tic disorder.

As many as 15 students of the school reportedly suffer from tics and verbal outbursts similar to Tourette Syndrome.

At a Jan. 11 community meeting, district officials and the NYS Department of Health released reports on environmental studies conducted at the school by BOCES.

"Nobody has received any information that can be checked or tested," Bowcock said. "We’re not out here to invalidate anybody’s work or validate anybody’s work. We just want to see all of the information so we can help gain further knowledge."

The Brockovich team attempted to walk onto school district property around 11 a.m., Saturday, and were stopped by local law enforcement. They were told they didn't have the proper permits to gather soil samples on the property.

At around noon, William Albert, a public information specialist with the law firm Harris Beach, along with Kim Cox, superintendent of the school district, appeared at the public park adjacent school property to issue a statement (click here to read the statement delivered to media representatives at the site).

Albert initially said neither he nor Cox would answer questions, but wound up in a debate/discussion with media representatives about access to school grounds.

At the impromptu press conference, Cox characterized the Brockovich team's actions as unprofessional and Albert would later issue a press release labeling the media presence as unprofessional and "criminal."

"We’ve been working very closely with professionals across the state and across the country trying to keep the community as involved and up to date as possible," Cox said. "We’re disappointed about how this has unraveled today. We would have expected to be contacted ahead of time. The district was taken by surprise by this. There was no pre-arrangement. We would have expected that this would have taken place in a professional way."

Cox said if Bowcock and his team were allowed on school property to gather samples, the research would have lacked validity because they would have been gathered in an unprofessional manner.

"I've never been kept out of a public place in my history of environmental investigation," Bowcock said. "Usually, we’re welcome because entities want us to rule them in or rule them out, or give them information to help them deal with the problem."

Brockovich's team and the media were being kept off the property, Cox said, because it was a disruption to education of students.

At the time, there were fewer than a dozen cars in the school's parking lot and no students in sight.

"We would have welcomed the help if they had gone through the appropriate channels and contacted us instead of just showing up on a Saturday morning with camera crews," Cox said. "It's a bit of a grandstand. We would be happy to talk with those folks and coordinate it through the appropriate channels.

"Why would you show up on a Saturday morning with a camera crew without a conversation with the superintendent of the district if you were truly interested in helping us? This doesn’t feel like support."

When a parent pointed out that community residents walk on school grounds all the time, particularly using the track for exercise, Albert clarified that any citizen could walk on the grounds, but Bowcock could not take samples and the media could not tag along.

After walking the grounds, Bowcock said he did gain valuable information from the walk.

"I noticed things like, the public roadway drains onto the school property, or through school property," Bowcock said. "What that means to me is that the school property is not wholly intact. It is subject to intrusion from outside sources of water and perhaps outside sources of contamination that could come in onto the property, cause an event and evacuate from the property. Did that happen? I don’t know."

Bowcock said his goal for his Saturday visit to Le Roy was to gather water and soil samples and analyze them for any contaminants. He said there might be a 100 chemicals that could cause problems for students, but of most interest was trichloroethene (TCE).

A 1970 train derailment in Le Roy dumped approximately one ton of cyanide crystals and around 30,000 gallons of Trichloroethene (TCE) onto the ground, polluting soil and groundwater.

Bowcock said the TCE plume in Le Roy is the largest in the United States.

The EPA has considered the plume's movement to be mostly eastward, but Bowcock said a number of factors -- such as capping of wells, storm patterns and new wells opening to the east -- could influence the direction of the plume.

"All those different things could have caused a release of the TCE into the surface environment from the subsurface environment for a period of time and then it could have ceased," Bowcock said. "You just won’t know until you get out here to investigate."

He was careful to point out that he has no evidence to suggest any such change has actually taken place.

TCE is typically a carcinogen (it can cause cancer), but Bowcock said that depending on the amount of exposure, can cause neurological disorders.

Bowcock and his team spent the day traveling to various locations in the town and village, examining the topography and environment as well as gathering soil and water samples.

There were dozens and dozens of places in Le Roy that residents suggested through emails to Brockovich that Bowcock check, he said.

One of the key sites was the location of the 1970 train wreck (bottom six photos).

It's still a Superfund clean-up site, and Bowcock said he was shocked by the condition of the site (located on Gulf Road on the east side of the Town of Le Roy).

The site contains breached and leaking barrels of contaminated water and soil and "the berm and liner is pretty much gone."

"Unfortunately, and I’ll say it like it is, we found a remediation site that has housekeeping issues," Bowcock said. "It is pretty much a mess."

The real threat, Bowcock said, is to anybody with well water. The village residents and its businesses on municipal water have nothing to worry about.

It's slim odds, Bowcock indicted, that TCE is the cause of the tic symptoms in the girls, but local residents, he said, need to be aware that the government hasn't adequately addressed the 1970 spill.

"The good outcome from that is that the people of Le Roy realize that they have the largest TCE plume in the eastern United States under their community and the government has given them lip service for 40 years telling them 'we’ve cleaned it, we’ve cleaned it up,' " Bowcock said. "Frankly, I’m here to tell you, they haven’t done a darn thing."

Bowcock said the only thing that has really been removed was the railroad tracks -- which are worth money -- but the old bedding and ties are still on the site.  Near the entrance of the site are two piles of bedding stones. One is covered by a heavy plastic tarp, as if it might be contaminated, and the other -- complete with exposed railroad ties -- is uncovered.

In every discussion with media, Bowcock was careful to say there is no apparent environmental cause of the tics and that further testing needs to be done.

He said he and the team -- along with possibly Brockovich and "Dr. Drew" (Dr. David Drew Pinsky) -- in three or four weeks hope to do more specific and detailed testing of soil and water in the community and at the school.

"The one common factor for the students affected is the school," Bowcock said.

Bowcock said parents wouldn't even have asked the Brockovich team to come to Le Roy if government officials had been more forthcoming and transparent at a Jan. 11 community meeting about the tic outbreak.

"Since the fall they’ve been asking for answers and I think they anticipated they would receive something of substance (at the meeting)," Bowcock said. "They would have heard, 'This is what we’ve done. This is how we’ve tackled the problem.' I think they felt like they were paid lip service. It was like, we did some testing and here’s some air samples. They weren’t even scientists (the parents) and they could recognize the deficiencies of the reports."

FOOTNOTE: An interesting aside to the "Brockovich is coming to Genesee County" angle, some prankster called the the legendary Red Osier Restaurant in Stafford to convince staff she was heading there for dinner. At about 9:45 p.m., Friday, a person called Red Osier and identified himself as a member of Brockovich's security team. He said Brockovich would be arriving in five minutes. He said Brockovich required a private dining area and a Stoli martini. Staff had no reason to doubt the authenticity of the call, according to co-owner Michael Moore, so one of the empty dining rooms was prepared and the fire in the fireplace was lit. The chef stayed on duty, ready to prepare a meal for Brockovich. After nearly an hour of waiting, Moore sent the staff home. Bowcock confirmed Brockovich wasn't even in town and said she would never make such demands.

Beth Kinsley
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Last seen: 3 years 10 months ago
Joined: Aug 22 2008 - 9:43pm

Those pictures are very disturbing. The story is also but those pictures really put everything in perspective.

Daniel Jones
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Last seen: 2 years 9 months ago
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Perhaps it's time to call the state Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York. Beth's right, those photos are worth a thousand words.

Kyle Couchman
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Last seen: 7 years 2 weeks ago
Joined: Dec 25 2009 - 8:54am

I'm starting to think that there is a domino effect here. Maybe these symptoms have led to the discovery of several things that were known to officals and the Govt but have been swept under the rug for so many years that it's been almost forgotten. I propose that what happened is these victim's conditions led the District to investigate and what they found was the tail end of a major contamination event that has been ongoing since the TCE trainwreck, after the spotlight back then focused elsewhere then the site was kinda neglected and forgotten, now it has far reaching effects and could possibly cost a significant amount of money to those who were supposed to be responsible.

The school is evasive because maybe they made a deal for cheap land for the school property and now are liable for those choices made back then, and the State or Feds and companies they contracted with, that were supposed to cleanup and or have custodial and upkeep responsibilities may have dropped the ball and are now looking at major expenditures to make things right, if they even can.

Now that the national media has stepped in we are seeing the beginning stages of the three ring circus that happens when people try to avoid responsibility long enough for the next responsible entity down the line to shoulder the responsibility. People are much smarter than public officials give them credit for nowadays. The days are long gone when someone in authority can just give you rhetoric and bs and depend on people being respectful of their position and just walk away saying... Well if he says so it must be so.

The next couple of months should be interesting to say the least as this snowball is moving downhill on its own now and is already pretty big.

Bob Price
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From the conditions of those drums-they look like they'll be REAL fun to remove-probably the bottoms are rotted out and the waste is seeping back into ground.

Lorie Longhany
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Last seen: 7 years 9 months ago
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Great. This is my neighborhood.

Before Monroe Co Water our well was tested. While we had bacterial contamination in our water, no or very little TCE. We do have family very close to site. Our home is almost due south of site and plume has moved south east with aquifer.

My husband remembers the derailment, but recalls another derailment a few years later when the cargo was beer, not chemicals. During that spill the locals enjoyed helping with the cleanup.

A couple years ago a number of new wells were drilled around the neighborhood for samples, I assume to see where plume has moved. I always wondered if contaminates could leach into Oatka Creek if variable with plume ever change. The creek is a tributary of the Genesee River.

Another factor I have wondered about is the stone quarry that sits next to site. When the stone is blasted what effect might that have on plume.

Lots of questions about this site. Hopefully the coverage will culminate in a real clean up. The pictures of those barrels is frightening.

Jeff Allen
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Even if this ends up having nothing to do with the symptoms suffered by the students, it looks like a problem that is long overdue being addressed. Sometimes shining light on one problem illuminates others.

Howard B. Owens
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Jeff, that line of thinking is exactly what led me to ask Bowcock a question along the lines of, "let's say it turns out the TCE had nothing to do with the tics, what does it mean for the community in what you found here today?"

Which brought about this response:

"The good outcome from that is that the people of Le Roy realize that they have the largest TCE plume in the eastern United States under their community and the government has given them lip service for 40 years telling them we’ve cleaned it, we’ve cleaned it up," Bowcock said. "Frankly, I’m here to tell you, they haven’t done a darn thing."

Brenda Ranney
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Anyone with any common sense would know not to leave metal barrels out in the elements Never mind, I just answered my own question.
Which begs to ask why we are putting our faith in a governing body that is so stupid as to leave those barrels there.

Lorie Longhany
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I will be making some calls about this and I suggest others do the same.

It's time this Superfund site is actually cleaned up. The Northwoods area of LeRoy is very popular for outdoor recreation. There's a gun club and Woody Acres neighboring these corroding barrels. Many of us in Lime Rock walk the woods with out pets.

Paul Dibble
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It seems weird it's mostly 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/staff-they've spent years in that school,the girl's 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 shot 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. Don't get me wrong, that mess should have been cleaned up years ago,it's a shame...I wish the families the best,and the kids make a full recovery.

Kyle Couchman
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Last seen: 7 years 2 weeks ago
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Paul, a simple explanation could be the hpv vaccine or other common denominator, (maybe a prescribed med, a mineral supplement, or maybe just using a certain brand of feminine hygene product) made them more sensitive to the contanimate?

Mark Potwora
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As others have said if for nothing else at least maybe this will get addressed..Howard exactly who owns that land that the barrels sit on...Isn't there zoning regulations in LeRoy on storage of Triclor....What happened to the railroad ,aren't they libel for any of this..Where again is this site located..Can you put up a map....But must say Howard great job of reporting on this ....Seems like this story will only get more attention..All the better for those who live in that area.........Off topic but i have always wonder about the site next to Dywer Stadium on bank street in Batavia.. It sits almost behind the Batavia HighSchool..Does that area have toxic waste on it.......I think is was called Batavia Waste and metal......Does any one know about this site...Who is libel for that area...

Howard B. Owens
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According to the county's GIS map, the parcel is owned by Northwoods Sportsmens Association, Inc. That group has a club house about a half mile down the road from the site. It's a 168-acre parcel of which this is only a fraction of the property.


tj stone
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''domino effect here''
Ok, you want something else to look at?
try this address - 5001 Cacner rd Bethany or there abouts - north side of the road - between a couple of rolling hills.
It's a little driveway with a gate and No Tresspassing sign, keeping those out.
If you research the deed, you might find that Hooker Chemical owns the multi acre lot there. It use to have a rail spur of it's own there. I believe the building still stands on the property where they used it as a safety zone to protect the guys that worked there.
From what I gather it was a testing ground for their Hazardous tanker train cars. They would bring a car in off of the rail line and test the strength of it by shooting telephone poles out of a cannon, into the sides of the car. Hence the reinforced bunker building there. Thats also the reasoning for the discontinued operations. One got away from them and the town said enough.
When all done with the wrecked railcar they would bury them on the property.
Some say that nothing grows on that ground, even today.
I think if you bring up Google maps of that area - it might even give you a sense of what I'm talking about.

and maybe look into the cause of death on the former property caretaker.

Every town out in the sticks has a dirty secret or two.

So theres a Domino for you.
Have fun.

the correct address is 5011 Cacner
the correct owner is Union Carbide Industrial
acres = 258
Property Type Class Code = Manufacturing and Processing
Mail Attention to = Praxair Inc.


Mark Potwora
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Thanks Howard ..Thats an interesting fact...So would those barrels belong to them.........

Cheri Kolb
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Sounds like no matter what the cause of the tics is...the environmental issue here is about to explode. Eventually, someone is going to be held accountable and found responsible and liable...no more sweeping this under the rug.

Howard B. Owens
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Mark, there is a trailer on the property with computers in it. The appearance is that somebody is responsible for the site. There are signs of recent activity within the fenced in area. My guess -- and it's only a guess at this point -- is that either state or federal officials work at and maintain the site. How frequently anybody is actually there is anybody's guess. But it's not completely forgotten by whatever agency is responsible for it.

doug smith
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trailer and computers belong to contractor drilling and maintaining wells......lots of activity 2 years ago....not so much last yr......I was told some of the wells would test positive for the tric using vapor extraction method and a day or 2 later none at all...also was told at one of the meetings the state held... that during flash flood occurrences .... flood waters would stir up the chemical laying and wells would test in higher amounts.....

at one of these meetings was told is one of the largest under underground aquifer in the states.....and a little ways down from gun club is a underground waterfalls....

another was told that dirt from area would be dug and incinerated ...funny some of these meetings were 20 yr. ago

C. M. Barons
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The environmental crisis in LeRoy has clearly demonstrated that those who object to the EPA and short-change its value by evoking ‘spotted owls,’ are creating a smoke screen. Frankly, the environmental toxins we come in contact with on a daily basis are pervasive: bacteria from fecal contamination, mercury and lead from paint, microwaves, pesticides and petro-chemicals; that is not to distract from the substantial risk posed by a four-decade old rail disaster that released cyanide and thousands of gallons of TCE into an aquifer. Still, deciding which specific or combination of environmental factors caused an illness or condition is the equivalent of dousing for water: the douser is focused on water.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) became law in 1980 on the tail of several national headlines pointing to waste disasters epitomized by Love Canal. The program was installed with a $1.6 billion dollar budget. By 1981 a Hazard Ranking System had been developed, and in 1982 a list of 799 of the most dangerous toxic sites was documented. Although the program was designed to recover cost by holding responsible parties accountable, this was the Reagan era of corporate non-responsibility, and of $700 million in assigned damages only $40 million was recovered. In the first two years of the Superfund’s existence 16 of the 799 toxic sites were remediated.

In 1986 the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act brought on board improved remediation technology and a larger budget, $8.5 billion.

In 1994 President Clinton proposed another reform bill that failed to gain Republican support. Up until this time the principle of ‘polluter pays’ guided policy. Superfund revenue came primarily from a tax applied to polluters, mostly the petro-chemical industry. In the mid-90s the Republican Congress bowed to corporate influence and vacated that philosophy. Senator Robert Dole (Republican KS), the Senate Majority Leader, described CERCLA as a "bad law, in both the way it has been structured and implemented." Senator Robert C. Smith (Republican NH) and Representative Michael G. Oxley (Republican OH) shared the view, “existing taxes are adequate (to) fund the cleanup of most toxic waste sites if the states and other parties acted more efficiently and if cleanup standards were more flexible,” a policy they agreed was more in line with the Republican party's "Contract With America.”

A Fordham University study reports:

In August of 1994, the EPA reported that only 240 of the more than 1,300 NPL sites had been successfully remediated.' The current pace of cleanup is much too slow for congressional leaders who are determined to root out the problems that are delaying the cleanup process.4 One problem with the current system is that much of the money available for remediation is being squandered on transaction costs.42 In other words, too much of the money is going to lawyers and not enough to the cleanup of hazardous waste sites.43 Two reasons for this inefficiency are the haggling among PRPs as to what share of the cleanup costs are attributable to which parties and the difficulty in locating additional PRPs to help defray the cleanup costs." In addition, litigation between PRPs and their insurers over the extent of insurance coverage for CERCLA cleanup costs adds substantially to the cost and delays associated with cleanup.4" Many other shortcomings of CERCLA have been noted by its critics. These include the inefficiency of the cleanup process,' the high costs with little corresponding benefit,47 and the harassment of small businesses and municipalities by large corporate polluters in an attempt to spread the costs of cleanup to others.' Economic development has been stifled as a result of money lenders and prospective property purchasers being discouraged by the potential CERCLA liability. 49 CERCLA's retroactive liability holds PRPs liable for actions that, when they were performed, may have been entirely lawful." Because they fear CERCLA liability, potential investors may be scared to invest in the cleanup and redevelopment of NPL sites.5 Finally, cleanup standards bear no relation to the expected future use of the NPL site.

If one reads between the lines, the intent of losing the polluter tax was to remove those culpable from financial obligation. The blanket tax provided a revenue stream from responsible industry to clean up cost. By diluting the tax and requiring litigation-based financial recovery, the money is exhausted in the courts (AKA legal establishment) and never finds its way to toxic remediation.

Brief History of the EPA Budget (not corrected for inflation):
FY 2012 (proposed) $8.973 billion
FY 2011 (proposed) $7.229 billion
FY 2010 $10.299 billion
FY 2009 $7.644 billion
FY 2008 $7.472 billion
FY 2007 $7.725 billion
FY 2006 $7.617 billion
FY 2005 $8.023 billion
FY 2004 $8.365 billion
FY 2003 $8.078 billion
FY 2002 $8.078 billion
FY 2001 $7.832 billion
FY 2000 $7.563 billion
FY 1999 $7.590 billion
FY 1998 $7.363 billion
FY 1997 $6.799 billion
FY 1996 $6.523 billion
FY 1995 $7.248 billion
FY 1994 $6.578 billion
FY 1993 $6.681 billion
FY 1992 $6.669 billion
FY 1991 $6.094 billion
FY 1990 $5.462 billion

tim raines
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@ cmbarons........YAWN

What are you cooking in your rice cooker besides rice??

Jamie Lindsley
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Not even half of the afflicted patients received an HPV vaccine, as was indicated previously, and I am not sure why the male patient would be using feminine hygiene products.

John Roach
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Last seen: 2 days 3 hours ago
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Was the use of 'spice" and/or other synthetic drugs checked? Since they are legal,just asking.

C. M. Barons
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Last seen: 1 month 2 weeks ago
Joined: Jul 29 2008 - 11:56pm

The 'rice cooker' is on vacation this week. I've been eating pasta. Apologies, Tim; I know how drab details can be. A cathartic would be more exciting. Let's weigh the potential, a tainted fragment of Skylab fell in LeRoy.

Judith Kinsley ...
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Last seen: 8 years 1 month ago
Joined: Aug 13 2008 - 3:57pm

Thank you C.M. for illustrating so clearly how the system failed. I had googled "toxic sites" in LeRoy last week and read about the 1970 disaster. I also read it was a Superfund site and made the mistake of assuming that meant it was being remediated and the remediation was being funded by those responsible. Clearly, as those pictures demonstrate so well, I was wrong. And now I know why.

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