Entries in Erin Brockovich (4)


Erin Brockovich Slams EPA over Toxic Waste Superfund Site in Le Roy

ABC News(LE ROY, N.Y.) -- More than four decades after a train derailment left a massive toxic chemical spill in a small upstate New York town, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday that they will begin removing 235 drums of dirt still sitting on the site.

The Lehigh Railroad Derailment Superfund site is located in Le Roy, N.Y.; the same town that has received national attention over the past several months because of a medical mystery involving a group of girls who suddenly began displaying Tourettes-like symptoms.

Last fall, about a dozen girls attending Le Roy High School began experiencing uncontrollable and painful tics, seizures and verbal outbursts, which appear to be similar to the symptoms of Tourettes syndrome.

As of Thursday, nearly two dozen people, including one 36-year-old, are displaying the symptoms.  Some in town have wondered whether there is some connection with the decades-old toxic chemical spill.

Enter Erin Brockovich, the environmental activist who became a household name after Julia Roberts portrayed her in an Academy Award-winning film.

Brockovich was asked by some concerned parents in Le Roy to explore whether the spill could be linked to the bizarre symptoms their daughters are suffering.

The derailment left a spill of over 30,000 gallons of liquid trichloroethene (TCE) and cyanide crystals.

TCE is a dangerous man-made chemical that was once used as a solvent to remove grease from metal and to strip paint in manufacturing plants. Over the years, several studies have linked TCE exposure to certain types of cancer. Long-term exposure can affect the central nervous system, according to the National Institute of Health.

While the chemicals were reportedly cleaned up at the time, hundreds of barrels of TCE and cyanide contaminated earth gathered shortly after the spill remained at the site for 40-some years.

After a recent national media spotlight was shined on the Lehigh site, the EPA returned to test the barrels.  The results?  “No tested contaminants were detected in materials from 203 of the drums. In 32 of the drums, some detectable concentrations of contaminants were found.” The barrels will be removed by Friday and sent to a landfill that Lehigh is permitted to accept hazardous waste in Belleville, Mich.

Meanwhile, Brockovich’s colleague, environmental scientist Bob Bowcock, also went to Le Roy last month to conduct preliminary tests.  His results suggest that the plume of the contaminates did not move toward the Le Roy High School.

“This is good news,” said Bowcock. "It is one of the many areas we are investigating where we are able to reprioritize, so we can focus our attention and resources on other environmental concerns” in Le Roy that might have caused recent health problems there.

Bowcock’s stresses that his investigation is looking at a myriad of environmental concerns, including the natural gas wells on the grounds of Le Roy High School, fill material used at the school, the routine complaints of fumes or odors in the school vent system, the school’s storm water system and biological and chemical concerns surrounding the school’s sports field.

And as of yet, Bowcock and Brockovich say, they have found no link between the spill and the Tourettes-like symptoms.

Nonetheless, Brockovich is not pleased with the EPA. In a letter to Nightline anchor Cynthia McFadden, she said that the EPA is sending mixed messages. “On one hand, the EPA suggests they found no contamination in the barrels, but they go on to detail the contamination they did find, including TCE and cyanide.”

After reviewing the area for possible environmental causes of the illness and conducting testing in the area, Brockovich’s team came across the derailment site.

“We actually alerted the EPA that the rotting barrels were still there in Le Roy. They had no idea.” Brockovich said.  ”The EPA didn’t even realize the barrels of hazardous material had never been disposed of properly.”

Brockovich calls the EPA’s press release a “feeble attempt to gloss over their abject failure in Le Roy,” and she said that the “EPA clearly dropped the ball.”

Calling the derailment site “the largest TCE Superfund site in the country,” Brockovich went on to say that “the EPA had responsibility to ensure that the polluter clean up the site and remove the drums of toxic waste within 30 days of being filled. And that never happened. ”

According to Bowcock there are approximately 15,000 Superfund sites in the United States and Le Roy is just one example of thousands of towns that are unaware of their environmental surroundings.

“The EPA is failing -- it is not protecting people, it is not protecting the environment,” Brockovich said. "Sadly, it takes citizens like me, and the people of the impacted communities, to speak up and fix problems that should have been dealt with years ago.”

The EPA declined ABC News’ request for comment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Erin Brockovich: Research into Upstate NY Tourette's Case Preliminary

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Environmental activist Erin Brockovich has corrected misinformation regarding her investigation into the medical mystery in an upstate New York town where a group of teenagers has displayed symptoms similar to Tourette syndrome, saying that her research is still preliminary.

Nearly two dozen people, including one 36-year-old, in the upstate New York village of LeRoy are now experiencing uncontrollable tics, seizures and outbursts that might have been caused by a chemical spill in the town more than 40 years ago.

In a statement released Tuesday, Brockovich said she is still investigating a plume from a 1970 train derailment in LeRoy, which dumped cyanide and trichloroethylene (TCE) -- a chlorinated hydrocarbon used to de-grease metal parts -- within three miles of the village's high school.

The Environmental Protection Agency says that TCE can affect the central nervous system, and cause dizziness, headache, sleepiness, nausea, confusion, blurred vision and facial numbness.  It is suspected of being linked to the symptoms among LeRoy's local teens.

Brockovich associate Bob Bowcock reportedly said on Feb. 11 that samples taken from the wells of private residences had not migrated west and south -- toward LeRoy High School -- as some had feared.  Although at the time Browcock said that the investigation would continue for the next several months, Brockovich on Tuesday said that the tests he referred to were preliminary.

"Contrary to an erroneous news report, I want to make clear that my investigation into possible sources of environmental contamination in LeRoy, New York that may or may not be linked to the serious illnesses suffered by various members of the community is not complete," Brockovich said in a statement.  "In fact, it appears the number of people in the area displaying alarming health issues that can be caused by TCE is growing."

"It took the EPA 40 years to investigate the contamination from the train derailment and it will take us more than 40 days to get to the root of the problem in LeRoy.  I want to further stress that we have not ruled out the TCE plume from the train derailment as a source of contamination at LeRoy High School," she added.

Brockovich, 51, added that her team has many more areas of LeRoy to test, including the local quarry, six fracking wells at the high school and the Methyl tert-butyl ether (MtBE) contamination in local wells, while stressing that thoroughness is key in her investigation.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


NY Mystery Illness: Parents Want Erin Brockovich On the Case

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Months of mounting frustration surrounding a mysterious illness apparently causing facial tics and verbal outbursts that started among teenagers in Le Roy, N.Y., has come to a head as reports of the illness expand and the high school where it began comes under fire.

Nearly two dozen people in the upstate New York community are now experiencing uncontrollable tics, seizures and outbursts they say may have been caused by a chemical spill in the town more than 40 years ago.

The original affected teenagers -- 14 girls and one boy -- all attended Le Roy Junior-Senior High School when they started showing symptoms last fall. Most of the teens have been diagnosed with conversion disorder, a psychological condition induced by stress that is sometimes called "mass hysteria" when occurring in clusters, such as in Le Roy. One of the victims is a 36-year-old.

The parents of the afflicted teenagers contest that diagnosis and dismiss suggestions that social media may be to blame.

"No, there is too much going on in Le Roy," Charlene Leubner said Tuesday on ABC's Good Morning America.

Leubner's 16-year-old daughter, Traci, is one of the teenagers who first began experiencing symptoms late last year.

"Mine started in early December and I started with a really bad stutter to where I couldn't talk and I got sent home," Traci Leubner said of her symptoms, which she says are provoked by stress and sadness.  "It eventually developed into a head twitch and then it went away for a little while."

Leubner and other parents are demanding that the school allow environmental activist Erin Brockovich to investigate potential environmental causes behind the disease.

Brockovich, who famously linked a cluster of cancer cases in California to contaminated drinking water, prompting an Oscar-winning movie starring Julia Roberts, launched her own investigation last month.  She says a derailed train that spilled cyanide and trichloroethene within about three miles of Le Roy High School in 1970 may be behind the Tourette-like symptoms.

"They have not ruled everything out yet," Brockovich told USA Today. "When I read reports like this that the New York Department of Health and state agencies were well aware of the spill and you don't do water testing or vapor extraction tests, you don't have an all-clear."

Bob Bowcock, an investigator for Brockovich's team, was asked by officials to leave the Le Roy High School property during a visit there Jan. 28 to collect soil, air and water samples from the school grounds.

On Monday, he posted an open letter to the school asking for their assistance, according to The Daily News.  The school has said it will post a response on the school district's website.

"We really want the school to do some outside testing and let Erin Brockovich's crew in because there has been great resistance as far as having them come in," Lana Clark, whose 16-year-old daughter, Lauren Scalzo, is another of the 15 students originally afflicted, said on GMA.

"They were too quick to reach a diagnosis and they did minimal testing," she said of the school's reaction to the outbreak.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Erin Brockovich Launches Investigation Into Tic Illness Affecting N.Y. Teenagers

BananaStock/Thinkstock(LE ROY, N.Y.) -- Environmental activist Erin Brockovich has launched her own investigation into the mysterious illness causing facial tics and verbal outbursts among 15 teenagers in Le Roy, N.Y.

Most of the teens have been diagnosed with conversion disorder -- a psychological condition that causes physical symptoms. But Brockovich suspects ground water contamination from chemical spill more than 40 years ago may be to blame.

"They have not ruled everything out yet," Brockovich told USA Today. "The community asked us to help, and this is what we do."

Don Miller, whose 16-year-old daughter Katie still suffers from debilitating tics, said his sister contacted Brockovich for help.

"We're just trying to eliminate everything, and she wants to eliminate that it's the environment," said Miller. "It's a possibility and she wants to either prove it is or it isn't something in the environment."

Brockovich, who famously linked a cluster of cancer cases in California to contaminated drinking water inspiring an Oscar-winning movie starring Julia Roberts, said a derailed train spilled cyanide and trichloroethene within about three miles from Le Roy High School in 1970. All 15 of the affected teens -- 14 girls and one boy -- attended the school when they started showing symptoms last fall.

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"When I read reports like this that the New York Department of Health and state agencies were well-aware of the spill and you don't do water testing or vapor extraction tests, you don't have an all-clear," Brockovich told USA Today.

An investigation by the New York Department of Health found, "no evidence of environmental or infection as the cause of the girls' illness," according to department spokesman Jeffrey Hammond. "The school is served by a public water system...An environmental exposure would affect many people."

Doctors also ruled out PANDAS -- a neurological disorder linked to streptococcal infections -- and the Guardasil HPV vaccine, which many of the girls did not receive, Hammond said.

The school was tested for volatile organic compounds by an independent firm, but, "people are free to pursue additional environmental testing," Hammond said.

Twelve of the teens -- all of them girls -- have been diagnosed with conversion disorder, in which the emotional response to a stressful situation is converted into physical symptoms. Three new suspected cases are still being examined. Women are more likely to get conversion disorder than men, and teens are at a higher risk than adults. But some parents want a second opinion.

"We don't really agree with it," Miller said of the diagnosis. "Down the road, who knows. But for them to give that diagnosis, they have to rule everything else out. And they haven't done that."

The National Institutes of Health has offered to help solve the puzzle. Dr. Mark Hallett, chief of the NIH Medical Neurology Branch, said the cluster of cases offers a unique research opportunity.

"We have offered our help but have not been asked for yet," said Hallett, adding that he has not yet seen any of the teens. "One of the difficulties in this is that there hasn't been a lot of attention to this problem or very much research into it, which has made it somewhat of a mysterious disorder."

Hallett said he's not surprised the teens and their families are looking for another, nonpsychological explanation.

"It always seems to be the case that patients far prefer to have a [medical] diagnosis than a psychological one," he said. "Maybe they don't see the connection; don't see how it's possible to have a tremor or tic produced just by stress."

The possibility of an environmental trigger has been bolstered by reports of similar symptoms in two teens living in Corinth, a town 250 miles from Le Roy. The girls started showing symptoms in May, around the same time they passed through Le Roy on their way to a softball tournament in Ohio.

If it is conversion disorder, there are treatments. Psychotherapy, stress management and in some cases medications can improve the symptoms. But Hallett said more research is needed to understand which approach is best.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio