As the Tourette’s-like illness continues to plague Le Roy school and baffle health experts, questions are now arising around the cleanup of a 40-year-old chemical spill that contaminated some of the local water supply. Around 30,000 gallons of trichloroethylene (TCE), an industrial solvent that’s hazardous in high doses and can affect the nervous system, were dumped into the ground during a train crash in 1970 on the outskirts of Le Roy. The EPA declared the area a Superfund site in 1999 after the TCE soaked into the ground and spread into a plume under part of Le Roy. Scroll down for video
Archive pictures: It has been suggested that it was chemicals leaked from a 1940 train crash that is causing the Tourette’s like disease
Superfund site: The site of the 1970 train crash has a danger sign warning the public not to enter
Hazardous waste: The EPA declared the area a Superfund site in 1999 after the TCE soaked into the ground and spread into a plume under part of Le Roy
The site is now in a state of disrepair and neglect, according to PIX 11 News, with more than 200 drums of hazardous waste rusting outdoors, some of which had holes in them allowing the contents to leak out. The EPA admitted to the station they didn’t know what was in all of the barrels and said about one hundred of them have been there since the 1990s.
A spokesman said: ‘The barrels contain dirt and rock from when wells were dug to monitor ground water at the site. Most of these drums have been tested and contain material that is not considered hazardous and we are gathering more information about the balance. ‘EPA is taking steps to get these drums removed from the site as soon as possible.’ A contractor confirmed to the station that the rock and dirt in the drums did contain TCE.
“To be safe, it’s put in drums and carted away and there’s a plant that burns it,’ he said. ‘But it’s like everything else. They forget about it until the cameras show up and it’s like, “Oh, we better get rid of the damn things”.’Doctors and teachers at the school deny that the disorder affecting 19 girls and one adult have anything to do with the spill. Le Roy historian Irene Walters said she remembers the spill and said the chemicals contaminated all the wells in the area and several of her friends died from cancer. Doctors who have treated or tested the girls in Le Roy believe they are suffering from conversion disorder, or the twitching symptoms are possibly related to an infection.
Lori Brownell, 16, posted a video on YouTube showing the Tourettes-like symptoms she has suffered since August. She is one of 15 at LeRoy High School in New York State who have developed the mystery condition
More recently, Facebook and YouTube were being blamed for the mystery illness. Doctors said that symptoms are being ‘reinforced and magnified’ because victims of the bizarre condition are uploading videos of themselves onto social networking sites to appeal for help. They argue that when other people in the town of LeRoy view the videos, they are unconsciously mimicking what they see and spreading it around. The true cause of the illness is still a mystery and there no formal suggestion that Facebook or any of the other social networking websites are to blame. But David Lichter, professor of neurology at the University of Buffalo, who has treated several of the patients, said he might now understand how it has affected so many people. He told MSNBC: ‘It’s remarkable to see how one individual posts something, and then the next person who posts something not only are the movements bizarre and not consistent with known movement disorders, but it’s the same kind of movements. ‘This mimicry goes on with Facebook or YouTube exposure. This is the modern way that symptomology could be spread.’ In total 19 patients have come forward with Tourette’s like symptoms since last Fall, which include uncontrollable facial and body twitching.
Trying to understand: Thera Sanchez, 17, has had the mysterious symptoms for months and all of the treatments he has received have not helped to clarify any options for her or her family
They include 14 girls aged between 13 and 18 and this week the first adult victim, 36-year-old nurse practitioner Marge Fitzsimmons.
Among those who have taken an interest in the case is environmental campaigner Erin Brockovich. She has suggested that a chemical spill from a train derailment in the 1970s near the site of the girls’ school may be the cause. Researchers have also come up with a string of theories and believe teenagers may have been struck down by paediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome, or PANS, which is a kind of OCD linked to strep throat. Other believe that Morgellons could be to blame, which is a disease that causes patients to sprout painful sores.
Mystery: Fifteen Le Roy High School students reported a mysterious outbreak of spasms, tics and seizures which may be caused by a brain infection
Some doctors have also suggested it could be a mass psychogenic illness which can be triggered by stress and is spread from unconscious mimicry of one another. Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, chief of neurology at the Dent Neurologic Institute in Buffalo, said: ‘When one has a symptom, it can be reinforced and magnified with other individuals with similar symptoms. ‘That’s what’s going on with these girls. They are in a segregated small rural town in New York state. They are a cohesive group. And this wildfire of symptoms takes control.’ During an angry meeting on Saturday parents berated LeRoy schools officials and asked why the soil around natural gas well which had been dug on school ground had not been tested for contamination.
Demanding explanations: Parents gathered for a meeting with school administrators to determine what was being done to ensure the safety of students near the 1970 chemical spill
Patrick Frauley (left) and Beth Miller (right, whose daughter is one of the ill teens, spoke at the meeting
‘This could take years! What are you doing to protect my kid? What are you doing to protect these peoples kids?’ said parent Patrick Frauley. Many of the parents of the sick teens attended the meeting, but none of the teens themselves were present. ‘I’m not looking for a lawsuit of any kind, I just want my daughter to get better,’ said Beth Miller. Adding to the concern was that the wells were drilled using the controversial hydraulic fracturing method, also known as ‘fracking’. Dr Greg Young of the New York State Department of Health had earlier explained that tests had ruled out environmental factors as the cause of the disease. He also claimed that genetics, antihistamines or head trauma could be to blame.