The hue and cry over the ‘mystery illness in Leroy, N.Y. for all I can tell is a true mystery: Why are several people in the same locality exhibiting similar symptoms? I can understand school and town officials’ desire to halt a hysterical reaction in the press that might bring unwanted and unnecessary concern to their community. Once started, it’s hard to keep a community functioning effectively if the press has made a spectacle of your community that invites all kinds of fears and disruptions.
But I can also understand the fears of parents and of those who invite lawyers and environmental groups to investigate a possible environmental cause to these recent illnesses. Without exact knowledge of cause and effect, it is reasonable to assume that an illness with similar symptoms within a small select group warrants testing for environmental health hazards. After all, we have been dumping toxic stuff all over the planet and the planet is finite in its ability to make our more noxious stuff go away.
Here’s one of the stories that you probably read because this issue has gone nationwide:
Advocates seek more testing in LeRoy In Le Roy, debate flared Tuesday over environmental testing and medical diagnoses in relation to the cluster of students with unusual neurological symptoms. A trio of environmental and health advocacy organizations told the Le Roy Central School District that more thorough testing is needed in and around the district’s high school to ensure that there are no environmental contaminants that could be triggering the symptoms. The district did one set of indoor air tests in December and on Saturday said it had commissioned a second set of tests that would check more parts of the school. (February 8, 2012) Democrat and Chronicle
I suspect some folks are sitting back and smugly thinking that outbursts such as these just come and go. Some kind of cyclical mass hysteria endemic to human nature is going on: Once in awhile, everyone gets excited about some possible environmental contamination issue, wild speculations goes viral, then things quiet down and go away. However, like most of the stuff we dump into our environment—heavy metals and toxins that get thrown into our landfills, pharmaceuticals that get flushed into our Great Lakes, greenhouse gases that get emitted into our atmosphere—they don’t just go away. They move from one place and eventually accumulate in others, where they often do much harm. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that there will be more cancer clustering and other public health outbreaks as we continue to trash our environment.
Granted, cancer clusters and other environmental effects of our modern life are hard to pin down, hard to find direct causes. Lawyers abound who protect industries’ interests, not yours. Also, in the US many industries do not have to disclose the ingredients of their product, or prove they are safe before they use our environment as their toilet. And, there is always the possibility that many public health outbreaks will occur randomly. So, unless you have an extraordinary circumstance or a telltale stream of nasty fluids pouring into a community drinking supply, there is probably enough wiggle room for a denier to slip through the legal cracks.
However, the flip side of all this legal wiggle room is doubt. Doubt and fear and some knowledge (but not enough) create widespread panics—especially when parents perceive that they are protecting their children. One of the consequences of the media and businesses and government treating the public like mushrooms (keeping them in the dark and feeding them crap) is a public always on the edge of hysteria every time a public health mystery erupts.
Frustrating as it may be to local governments and industry, events like what is going on in Leroy, NY will go on. These outbursts going on in Leroy now are not something cyclical in human nature; they are an indication of the accumulated consequences of our wasteful sort of life, which is spiraling towards more cases like this. This is because monitoring our environment, making sure products are safe for our health and our environment before they are dumped into our environment, has become so political in the media and divorced from science that the public is left with little useful information about the state of our environment.
There is a way to avoid all this, which is to elect officials who understand science and are not committed to an unsustainable ideology. We can also only attend to the media that conduct investigative reporting on our environment continually. And we can insist that our government create standards for waste-streams that turn toxic products (cradle to cradle design) back to benign resources. And most of all, conduct our economy as if our environment mattered. If not you get this:
- Brockovich Investigator Releases Preliminary Groundwater Testing Results in LeRoy Preliminary test results on groundwater testing in LeRoy, by Erin Brockovich's team, are in. Environmental Investigator Bob Bowcock says so far test results show TCE from the 1970 Leghigh Train Derailment has not moved toward LeRoy High School. (February 11, 2012) YNN
- Alternate Le Roy theories abound Medical experts may believe they know the cause of the cluster of stricken students in Le Roy, but there are plenty of theorists both mainstream and not with ideas of their own. For instance, I’ve had two calls from people who insisted the symptoms could be caused by Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a relative of mad cow disease. And a journalist in Uganda recently wrote a piece, brought to my attention Tuesday by a caller, suggesting the Le Roy illnesses were what’s known as Ugandan nodding disease, a very real and horrible health problem now affecting thousands in that African nation. (February 9, 2012) Democrat and Chronicle
- New Air Testing For LeRoy High School LeRoy, N.Y. - New air testing could begin this week at LeRoy High School. Leader Professional Services in Pittsford will test the air quality inside and outside the school. The testing will happen while students are in class and when the school is closed. (February 9, 2012) 13WHAM.com
- Advocates seek more testing in LeRoy In Le Roy, debate flared Tuesday over environmental testing and medical diagnoses in relation to the cluster of students with unusual neurological symptoms. A trio of environmental and health advocacy organizations told the Le Roy Central School District that more thorough testing is needed in and around the district’s high school to ensure that there are no environmental contaminants that could be triggering the symptoms. The district did one set of indoor air tests in December and on Saturday said it had commissioned a second set of tests that would check more parts of the school. (February 8, 2012) Democrat and Chronicle
- A shipment from Le Roy goes awry A second school district in western New York has fallen down the rabbit hole created by the appearance of unusual neurological symptoms in Le Roy, Genesee County. That would be the Lewiston-Porter Central School District in Niagara County, which moved to block shipment of supposedly harmless soil from an old chemical spill in Le Roy. Barrels filled with soil were to be sent to the Chemical Waste Management hazardous waste landfill in Porter, just a mile or so from the Lewiston-Porter campus. (February 8, 2012) Democrat and Chronicle
- NYS Health Department releases report on LeRoy girls A doctor in Buffalo said today, he’s treating four more young girls with tics in LeRoy. He’s diagnosed three of them with conversion disorder. Meanwhile, the New York State Health Department released a preliminary report today on the 12 original cases at LeRoy High School. It spells out, in detail, why certain environmental factors are not to blame for these symptoms. (February 4, 2012) WHEC.com
- More mystery illness details emerge in Le Roy With the number of known or suspected cases of unusual neurological illness in LeRoy now standing at 19, officials offered the first detailed look Friday at their inquiry into the cluster and announced a public meeting for this morning. The meeting at LeRoy Junior-Senior High School is to discuss additional testing at the building. All but one of the afflicted people is a student. (February 4, 2012) Democrat and Chronicle
- NIH offers to evaluate Le Roy students for free LE ROY — The National Institutes of Health has offered to evaluate the LeRoy High School students exhibiting involuntary tics and verbal outbursts for free, and state Health Department tests of the school's drinking water turned up nothing out of the ordinary, the state health commissioner said Wednesday. Dr. Nirav Shah, the commissioner, announced in a written statement released late in the day that an agreement had been struck with the NIH that would allow the students to travel to Bethesda, Md., for testing at no cost to their families. February 2, 2012) Democrat and Chronicle
- Le Roy officials: Speculation harmful Although some environmental activists continue to link a cluster of afflicted students in Le Roy to a spill of toxic chemicals in the Genesee County town 41 years ago, school officials reiterated Monday there is no evidence the two situations are connected. They said the school is safe, and that continuing national attention to the students' unusual neurological symptoms is distracting the student body and setting back the recovery of those who are afflicted. (January 31, 2012) Democrat and Chronicle
- EPA Doing Testing In LeRoy In Response To Community Concerns! LeRoy, N.Y. - On the very day two environmental groups called for more testing in LeRoy, we learned the EPA is testing drums of soil on the site of a 1970's train derailment. The drums contain rocks and soil taken during groundwater testing at the derailment site. It is a Superfund Clean-up site and is located off of Gulf Road, about four miles from the high school. EPA Spokeswoman Mary Mears told us she doubts the material is hazardous but says the EPA agreed to the testing "in response to community concerns." (January 31, 2012) 13WHAM.com
- Environmental icons drawn by Le Roy cluster National environmental and health groups are beating a path to LeRoy, poking into the Genesee County community's startling cluster of teenage students with troubling neurological symptoms. Groups led by environmental-activist icons Erin Brockovich and Lois Gibbs have been talking with parents and gathering background. A chapter of the Sierra Club has been digging into the LeRoy school's unusual connection with natural gas drilling. The Healthy Schools Network, Empire State Consumer Project and others are involved. (January 27, 2012) Democrat and Chronicle