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The "Mysterious Illness" of LeRoy or Chemical Exposure?
Cooper Anderson had two of the 20 girls on his show this morning (7/16/2012). As usual, the ideas of what may be causing the "illness" are still related to Conversion Disorder and a rare reaction caused by strep throat. The following written piece is a bit long and was written when public outcry was first made. However, there are some interesting and even shocking bits of information that have me leaning heavily toward the toxic poisoning associated with the 40 year old chemical spill in Le Roy. The chemicals involved are known to cause interference with certain brain chemicals in areas of the brain that affect those with Tourette's Syndrome. Read for yourself and come to your own conclusion. Comments are very welcome.
Who doesn't remember seeing Julia Roberts playing the role of down and out Erin Brockovich turned environmentalist, in the 2000 movie of the same name? Well, while Julia has long since moved on to other roles and other movies, Erin is still at work, hunting down criminal corporations whose inaction in dealing with toxins, whether in error or by illicit choice, have brought harm to nearby residents. Today she finds herself launching her own investigation into the case of 15 high school students from LeRoy, New York, who have one by one fallen victim to a “mysterious” illness causing facial ticks, muscular twitching, and loud outbursts, much like those exhibited by sufferers of Tourette's Syndrome.
Katie Krautwurst, a 16 year old from LeRoy, was one of the first to come down with the illness in September of 2011 with tics and twitching severe enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room by ambulance. Not long after, her best friend 17 year old Thera Sanchez woke from a nap and began stuttering non-stop. Her symptoms swiftly turned to facial tics, uncontrollable muscle twitching in which her arms flailed about, and loud verbal outbursts resembling growling, all of which resembled the symptoms of Tourette's Sydrome. By late Fall, a total of twelve teenage girls, students of LeRoy Jr/Sr High School, were all suffering from identical symptoms of varying degrees. Some have also reported fainting and seizures. Recently, two more girls and one boy have brought the total to 15.
The illness has parents baffled, the teens frustrated, and celebrity “experts” vying for a chance at cracking the mystery. The school district issued a statement claiming, “...medical and environmental investigations have not uncovered any evidence that would link the neurological symptoms to anything in the environment or of an infectious nature.” Prominently posted on the school district's website is both an indoor air quality report and a mold report. School officials have assured the community that both the school environment and surrounding areas are not to blame in any way.
Officials at the state Department of Health has avoided speculation of the cause, noting that most of the girls didn't receive the HPV vaccine Gardasil. In addition, he sited the lack of symptoms in males and other staff members as being proof that the contaminant wasn't spread through the air.
Several neurologists have come up with different theories. One neurologist appeared on several programs making the claim that the students could be suffering from a syndrome in which staphylococcus bacteria or another infectious germ has triggered the tic disorder. However, Buffalo Drs. Laszlo Mechtler and Jennifer McVige have made the diagnosis of conversion disorder and mass psychogenic illness. This type of diagnosis is one of exclusion where all other more tangible explanations are ruled out. Dr. Mechtler says that conversion disorder happens when there are high levels of stress or conflict which manifest as physical symptoms. In other words, it's psychosomatic.
As unbelievable as the idea of 15 different teenagers all exhibiting psychosomatic symptoms as a way of expressing extreme stress may be, the National Institute of Health has offered to provide a second opinion to the students, free of charge. What's interesting is that conversion disorder is the main area of research at the NIH. Even more interesting is the fact that leading US and overseas media have reported teens in other areas to also be stricken with the “mysterious illness”. So much so, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has placed it on its cdc.gov “emerging infectious diseases” website pages.
Parents of the teens aren't satisfied with the doubtful diagnosis. During an appearance on NBC's Today Show, Katie, Thera and their mothers, claim that they have been told very little about the efforts made to determine the environmental safety of the school and its grounds. Melissa Phillips, Thera's mother, claims that she has never been shown any proof of any testing done to determine safety. “Where's the proof? Where's the data? Where's the testing? When has this been done?” she asked during the interview.
Katie's mom, Beth Miller, stated that she's put in a request for the reports and information collected, but to date she hasn't received any. Melissa also insists that officials have reported testing on the students that has not, in fact, been done, and that nothing has been done for them collectively, but rather on an individual basis. She maintains that officials are making statements with no truth to them at all.
Can You Say Chemical Spill ?
And then there is the environmental factor that is being ignored. One that is well documented and remembered by many. On December 6, 1971, just 3 miles from the three year old Jr/Sr high school, a train derailed spilling a ton of cyanide and 35,000 gallons of the industrial solvent chemical trichloroethene, also known as trichloroethylene (TCE).
In 1997, the New York State Department of Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) stated that people living next to the spill site “complained of solvent-like odors in their drinking water” in a written report. The only source of drinking water in the area were wells.
A 1999 EPA report describes the cleanup efforts. After the cyanide crystals were removed, “neutralizers were spread on the ground to counteract the effects of any remaining cyanide.” But what about the liquid TCE? It was absorbed into the ground and left. Not long after, residents reported smelling the sweet odor in their local well water. 50 contaminated area wells were discovered through testing between 1990 and 1994, says the EPA. As a result, water filtering systems were provided for the residents and the site was placed on the Superfund National Priorities List in 1999.
The National Academy of Sciences issued a report in 2006 describing the effects of exposure to trichloroethylene. They found that inhalation of TCE causes “neurotoxic effects in laboratory animals and humans.” One effect, in particular, is a change in the “masseter reflex latency” - - - the jaw jerk reflex. The NAC also reported that “drinking water contaminated with small amounts of TCE over a length of time may cause liver and kidney damage, impaired immune system function and the possibility of birth defects.” The EPA has concluded that TCE has a high probability of causing cancer in humans.
John Walkup, chair of the medical advisory board of the national Tourette Syndrome Association claims he has no knowledge of a known connection between Tourette's Syndrome and TCE. That's a curious statement to make, considering the areas of the brain to which Tourette's Syndrome is linked. Though the true cause of the syndrome is unknown, current research indicates abnormalities in specific regions of the brain (basal ganglia, frontal lobes, and cerebral cortex), the circuits connecting these regions, and the neurotransmitters responsible for communication between nerve cells (dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin), are involved.
TCE is a known endocrine disrupting chemical which has adverse effects on the central nervous system. It kills the brain cells which secrete dopamine, and interferes with serotonin and norepinephrine. A case study from the University of Barcelona shows that Myoclonic (sudden, brief, jerky, shock-like, involuntary movements) Encephalopathy can occur and linger due to extended exposure to TCE. It is known to cause nerve damage of the face, arms and legs, and has been linked to seizures.
Though there have been some studies done on the short term effects of exposure, most have been conducted on people who have worked in industries where manufacture or use of solvents is involved. There are no long term studies on such subjects due to the fact that it is difficult to find subjects who have not been exposed to any other possible contaminants during their lifetimes. Some studies have been done on animal models, and while these have shown significant links between TCE and the above mentioned symptoms, much more research is required to determine the effects of long term overexposure. To date, there are indications that frequent prolonged exposure to TCE can cause permanent damage and even death.
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For those who don't mind wading through scientific papers and studies, I've provided links, in addition to a few for informational purposes.
Students from Corinth, New York are first cases: http://hudsonvalley.ynn.com/content/top_stories/571741/mystery-illness-gaining-national-attention/
Erin Brockovich's investigative team is blocked from taking soil samples on the school grounds.
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