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.