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Is Toxic Spill Linked to Teen`s Illness?
Aired January 30, 2012 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DR. DREW PINSKY, HOST: Here we go. Now, what is happening to these teens and why? Is there a common thread? Does a train derailment from 40 years ago have anything to do with it?
Erin Brockovich is here with answers. Can she help to solve the medical mystery that has the whole town holding its breath? Let`s get going.
Breaking news over the weekend in the Upstate New York medical mystery we`ve been trying to solve and help these girls and their family. Of course, I`m talking about more than 15 high school girls and one boy who developed Tourette`s-like symptoms, tics, seizures, verbal outbursts and wild movement.
The question is, could this medical mystery be caused by toxic chemicals that have been in the ground there for more than 20 years?
Now, a fine team of doctors has said that these teens are suffering from a conversion disorder, something that is sort of stress or trauma induced with mass hysteria, and I mean it`s kind of catching on in the community.
This weekend, famed activist Erin Brockovich sent her team to look into whether a chemical spill from the 1970s, a train derailment has anything to do with the girls` mysterious illness. We sent our own team out as well.
I`m joined now by Erin Brockovich and her associate Bob Bowcock who is conducting the testing. Also, I have HLN correspondent out there in the field. Jim Spellman, he is live on the scene. Jim, can you give me the latest?
JIM SPELLMAN, CNN ALL-PLATFORM JOURNALIST: Dr. Drew, we`re here at Le Roy Junior and Senior High. Everybody here in town, this tight-knit community, they want answers, especially the family members, and they`ll take them from wherever they can get them. Take a look.
SPELLMAN (voice-over): We sent a crew to follow environmental investigator Bob Bowcock as he took soil and water samples in and around Le Roy, New York. Bowcock works with environmental crusader Erin Brockovich and was in town on behalf of concerned parents of the afflicted girls.
BOB BOWCOCK, ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATOR: It`s an initial investigation where we basically come out and take the opportunity to become familiar with the setting, look at the geology, the terrain, kind of understand exactly what`s going on.
SPELLMAN: At the park behind the school, Bowcock encountered police and he and the parents were met with resistance from school officials.
BOWCOCK: What`s the matter? I pay taxes, I live here. I can`t go out on a school (INAUDIBLE) property here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can walk on the school property. You can`t go digging and destroying school property.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But we can walk on school property, correct? We were told we couldn`t.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were told we couldn`t walk on school property any more.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your security guy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which you have to have permission to walk. You can`t just walk on school property.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought every day we were out on this track 364 days a year we`re allowed to use the track, and today we can`t. Today we have to call and make an appointment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can walk the grounds but you can`t take samples.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s fine. But we wouldn`t have to take samples if they would have taken samples originally. Why wasn`t there a ground study done originally? You guys said you did all these studies, the Monroe County Water Study?
You didn`t do a study from the water that was in the building. Did you do a ground study?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you like a statement? I have a statement.
SPELLMAN: In that statement, Superintendent Kim Cox said the school district had hired an environmental consulting firm to review previous test results. But after being denied access to school grounds, Bowcock remains skeptical.
BOWCOCK: I will tell you that usually in settings or situations like this when I`m confronted by officials barring access to something, they usually have something to hide.
SPELLMAN: Lydia Parker and her mother Heather disagreed with the school`s protocol.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The school would not let Bob who is Erin`s assistant, you know, to get samples today. Do you have any reaction to that?
HEATHER PARKER, LYDIA PARKER`S MOTHER: I`m not surprised. School is very hiding about everything.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you think that is?
LYDIA PARKER, SUFFERS FROM MYSTERIOUS ILLNESS: Well, if they`re not going to let them get a couple of samples, they should know that it makes them look like they`re trying to hide something.
H. PARKER: I would hope tat nobody is trying to hide anything here. We just, like I said, we just want our girls to get better.
SPELLMAN: After taking some water samples at nearby residences, Bowcock headed to the derailment site where in 1970, over 30,000 gallons of toxic solvent TCE spilled after a train went off the tracks. Bowcock said he was surprised to find an untended cleanup site, some of the storage drums were leaking and corroded.
BOWCOCK: But what they`ve done is they`ve left 55 gallon drums of the soil, when they drilled the monitoring well, the contaminated soil came up because if you put it on (ph) on a drum, it should go to a hazardous landfill.
It`s so - it`s so hazardous that they had to put this berm in to protect the stuff from spilling back out. You have a sign like that, and 55 gallon drums rotting away, leaking material out into the environment right now, draw your own conclusion.
SPELLMAN: These families, Dr. Drew, are not going to give up until they feel they have the answers that their kids deserve.
PINSKY: Jim, I think, you know, it`s the families and the instinct of some of the mothers that there`s something more going on here is what - what caused me to pursue this. I didn`t know I was going to run into Erin Brockovich along the way.
My question, are we able to keep emotions low enough? We`re not getting panicky about things. Does everyone going about this in systematic ways we can find some real answers?
SPELLMAN: Yes. I don`t think anybody here is panicking at all.
SPELLMAN: But I think they`re just not getting the answers that they feel, you know, they want. We`ve spoken with town officials here. We haven`t been able to get in touch yet with the mayor or the town supervisor.
But Kathy Hochul, she`s the congresswoman that represents this district, she said she`s now involved in it. She`s contacted the CDC and the EPA. She wants to be sure everybody here gets as much information as they can, and the EPA gave us a statement today. They say that the super fund site they do not believe is part of this illness, but they`ve told us there`s a second super fund site about 10 miles away from here. They also don`t believe that this impacted it.
But these super fund sites, Dr. Drew, I have to tell you they look very concerning to have them so close to these communities here.
PINSKY: Well, Jim, yes, thank you. And if families are concerned, they should listen to this program tonight because Erin and Bob are here to break it down.
And Erin keeps telling me this is a big deal. This is something unlike anything either she or Bob has ever seen in their career. Tell me why.
ERIN BROCKOVICH, ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST: Well, for some of the reasons, I mean first of all, for a couple of factors. I mean it took agencies so long to respond to a spill.
PINSKY: Twenty-five years.
BROCKOVICH: Twenty-five years.
PINSKY: So was there leeching of the spill for 25 years?
PINSKY: There`s documentation of wells being contaminated during that time.
PINSKY: People are getting jugs of water sent to them so they don`t drink the well water by the railroad company.
PINSKY: And then when they finally do respond, Bob, you say the site itself has been rendered into a toxic dump?
BOWCOCK: Oh, absolutely. They`ve gone in and excavated some of the materials to do their testing, put it in 55 gallon drums and left in there to rot and just go right back into the environment.
PINSKY: So what is your sense of this? I mean, to you, again, you keep saying this is unlike anything you have seen before. We don`t - none of us have ever done this sort of work. What makes this so extraordinary?
BROCKOVICH: Well, one, the concentration amount. I mean, we`ve done this for 21 years, and to see agency report, a federal agency report that discloses in the bedrock the levels of TCE are at 550 parts per million, neither he nor I in our 21-plus years of experience has ever seen (INAUDIBLE) where they`ve actually been able to show those concentrations.
To give you a comparison, they set a standard for TCE in drinking water at 0.5 parts per billion.
PINSKY: Zero-point-five parts, so this is thousands -
BROCKOVICH: Thousands of times.
PINSKY: -- thousands of times more.
BROCKOVICH: The magnitude.
PINSKY: And then Bob, you said not only - that`s what`s just in the bedrock, your concern is that it`s being concentrated somewhere, and my - and I guess we are speculating and this is what I want to build throughout the show tonight is trying to connect these dots for my viewers. Somewhere this got concentrated, and maybe that somewhere is a place all these girls had congregated at one time or passed through. Is that what you`re looking at now?
BOWCOCK: Yes, absolutely. I mean, we`re looking at a myriad of environmental concerns. This one is just standing out like a sore thumb.
PINSKY: The toxic dump.
BOWCOCK: The toxic dump and the derailment site. The derailment site is actually where the toxic dump is. What concerns us the most is that the care that`s been given to the cleanup of this has actually exacerbated or made the problem worse.
You hear Erin talk about 1997 was when they discovered the 550 parts per million in the bedrock. 1997 this spill occurred in 1970. And in 1997, they discover 550 parts per billion in the bedrock.
BOWCOCK: Or million.
PINSKY: And they didn`t do much.
BOWCOCK: And they haven`t done anything and actually they made it worse.
PINSKY: Why the EPA saying, hey, we`re looking into this, they seem to be sort of self satisfied. Like, oh, we got - we know it is there. It`s fine. Isn`t the sort of the response we got?
Jim, that was the response you got from them, was it not? I`m not sure Jim is hearing me out there. But let`s - let`s keep going down the road (INAUDIBLE).
My concern is this. You are also concerned about how the water table is pushing this chemical around or these chemicals, right?
BOWCOCK: It`s being pushed and pulled.
PINSKY: And so isn`t that the big issue here, that this might be pushed into areas where it`s getting concentrated, like apparently there`s a limestone quarry nearby, right?
PINSKY: There`s a creek nearby where there has been dumping.
BROCKOVICH: Yes. A big hurricane up there that can disrupt the water system.
PINSKY: There was a concern about this -
BROCKOVICH: Yes. The phenomenon where the water rises and gets into the bedrock and pushes it out.
PINSKY: And you also mentioned something about the pumping of the gas under the school, there`s a natural gas pump there that might be concentrating these things, right?
BROCKOVICH: They need to look at that.
BOWCOCK: It wouldn`t concentrate. What it would do is it will draw the higher concentrations - they would be drawn to the school site.
PINSKY: OK. So are we - are we saying that - I just want to add up the score. Summarize it for me, Erin, if you could, that this is an extraordinary situation. Bob, the dump site is unlike anything you`ve seen where the remediation site has become its own toxic spill.
PINSKY: Yes? There`s concern about the bedrock 25 years after the initial spill. There`s concern that that concentration never got pumped out or remediated or whatever they have to do, and so it`s now been flying around, floating around underground there and being pushed.
And what we need to now figure out is where it`s concentrating and find out if the girls have been exposed to one of these, and find this - one last thing I got to get to you in this segment, my understanding is you`re getting inundated with e-mails -
BROCKOVICH: I am.
PINSKY: -- from people who have lived in this vicinity with similar medical problems.
BROCKOVICH: Yes, if I can share some of them.
PINSKY: Please. Go right ahead.
BROCKOVICH: And I wouldn`t share names, but I can tell you how much -
PINSKY: How many cases do you think you`ve heard about?
BROCKOVICH: A lot.
PINSKY: Hundreds? Dozens? Hundreds? A thousand?
BROCKOVICH: Well, I can tell you I`ve gotten thousands -
BROCKOVICH: -- and I have not had a chance to get through all of the information.
But very quickly just to share with you what people are reporting to me from the area, they are reporting that they grew up in that area and they`ve seen and they know of dumping. They`re reporting as adults now that as children they were told not to drink the water in or around the ball field.
I have people reporting to me who grew up in the area whose sons have tics, who were born with rare birth defects. I have children who grew up in the area who are reporting to me they had bone cancer at the age of 10. I have children who grew up in the area who are reporting to me as young adults in their early 20s that they`ve been diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia.
I`m getting reports from people who still live their on Maple Avenue, that there`s eight known families with very rare cancers, moving on to Erie Street, there`s more cases of cancer being reported. I have people reporting to me that their two and a half-year-olds have tic-like syndromes.
PINSKY: I`m going to stop you because we can`t substantiate this, but we get - we get the idea.
BROCKOVICH: Right. I understand. And these are all reports that we are clearly substantiating as well.
But I want something that people to understand for 21 years that I`ve been doing this, these people who come from these areas, they`re the first not to panic. They want answers and they`re reporting information to me that can help us get answers for these 12 girls, for them, and for the community as a whole.
These people have a lot better things to do in their life than sit around and make up these symptoms that can be clearly substantiated and send them to me. So what it`s telling us is that, yes, the 12 girls are exhibiting problems, but yet many other people are as well.
PINSKY: It may be the tip of the iceberg.
PINSKY: All right, coming up, we`re going to talk to the parents of one of the girls suffering from the symptoms and they are scared and they want answers.
And they are the people who actually picked up the phone call and called Erin for help. We`re going to tell you why they think the train derailment is such an important aspect of this story. That is next.
PINSKY: So thanks for joining us again. Tonight, I`m here with Erin Brockovich, and we`re asking is a 1970 train derailment the cause of a medical mystery affecting 16 or more young people in Upstate New York.
Erin Brockovich, as I said, is on the case, and she`s here. We also sent a DR. DREW crew up there to help us figure this out.
Now, look, we want to remember the whole reason that we`re digging deep in this story is because there is a group of young girls who are suffering, their families are suffering, they`re asking for answers. And we are merely going out there and asking for help.
Now, when I - when I first found this story, and I was asking if there are people out there that could help us that might know something about the environment or maybe the infectious agents which we`ve gotten into lately, little did I know that Erin Brockovich would show up, and she already was running a parallel course.
Now, one of the girls that was effected by this is Katie - I believe Krautwurst is how she pronounces her name. But it`s her parents that join us now from Le Roy. Don and Beth Miller, thank you so much for being here.
And I - and I want to say thank you to you two. I mean, you guys are really the heroes of this story, in my opinion. Erin is shaking her head vigorously. I mean, you picked up the phone and called Erin Brockovich because you had, again, an instinct, a suspicion that something was not right.
And, thank God, I ran headlong into Erin and we sort of started sharing notes here. What made you call Erin?
BETH MILLER, DAUGHTER KATIE SUFFERS FROM "MEDICAL MYSTERY": Well, I just didn`t believe that our daughter was having conversion disorder. I just couldn`t wrap my brain around it, and I just felt that there wasn`t enough testing done on her and I just wanted more answers. So we sent Erin our first e-mail -
DON MILLER, DAUGHTER KATIE SUFFERS FROM "MEDICAL MYSTERY": -- was December 12th, we sent Erin our first e-mail, and on January 19th, we sent her the report that we received about the train derailment.
PINSKY: Let me - let me fill in people in on that, that they called Erin because - I mean, you`ve been sick yourself, right, Mrs. Miller?
B. MILLER: Yes. I had 13 brain surgeries.
PINSKY: Beth has a brain surgery. You also noticed on Harris Road, there was a cluster of cancer cases such as your own, where you grew up there on Harris Road, and that`s what made you call. And then somebody slipped the information under your door, I`m hearing, about the train derailment. Is that accurate?
B. MILLER: Yes, they did. And I said oh, my God. I have to call Erin and let her know about this. This is huge.
PINSKY: Yes. So Don, I want you to take a -
D. MILLER: We`ve been e-mailing Erin about - we`ve been e-mailing Erin about five weeks --
PINSKY: I`m going to stop you at that point. I want you - I want you to look - this is - I want to show some tape of your daughter, Katie, appearing on the "Today" show, just so we can connect everybody together here. Take a look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE KRAUTWURST, LE ROY HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: I can`t explain it. They told us it`s traumatic, but I really don`t think any of us had that traumatic of a life before, and that it would randomly happen.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You`re just shaking a little bit, but you - so you have a little bit here and there, but it`s not as pronounced as Thera`s.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you see a similarity, though, in your symptoms?
KRAUTWURST: Yes. Mine`s more advanced, I think, because I`ve had it longer, but mine`s definitely gotten better.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: Well Don, Beth, again, I want to thank you for reaching out to Erin and giving us this gift of someone who really knows how to look into these things. My - I`ve got less than a minute left. My question for you is, is there anything that you can think of that ties all these girls together?
B. MILLER: The school.
D. MILLER: Yes, pretty much.
B. MILLER: And the grounds.
D. MILLER: Pretty much, it`s just the school that they all - they all go to.
PINSKY: OK, we`re - and again, Erin, you`re trying to come up with other concomitant - and I know that Bob particularly is looking at flow diagrams of where people have moved around, what they were doing last summer.
BROCKOVICH: Absolutely, and I think it`s very, very concerning. We do need to look at the athletic field where they all clearly have something in common. Other parents are reporting this substance on their children`s clothing. But it`s the one thing -
PINSKY: This orange powder -
BROCKOVICH: -- they all have in common that has been in the community a long time.
PINSKY: And it may be a red herring. This may not be it, right?
BROCKOVICH: It may not be it, but you`ve got to look at the problems that exist there, and these parents and this community deserves an answer and not all environmental testing has been done.
PINSKY: That`s why - that`s another question I have for you. Are you doing anything specialized?
But, coming up next, we`re going to talk to a neurotoxicology expert who says he doesn`t - well, he`s not sure this illness is caused by the environment because there`s no research to substantiate it yet. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
H. PARKER: I would hope that nobody`s trying to hide anything here. We just - like I said, we just want our girls to get better, so that`s all that`s - all the testing that we want done is anything that can lead to an answer for what`s going on with our girls.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: All right. We are continuing to discuss this medical mystery.
Now, the neurotoxicologist I was trying to get in here could not be - we`re trying to get him still hooked up. We`re having some technical problems.
But I know basically what he was trying to say, which was this is an area - and Erin, you`ll agree with me on this - that research of the neurological effects of various chemicals is really not that advanced. We can only guess about these things. So to say that there has not been documented to be a specific chemical that causes these specific symptoms, does - not a big surprise.
BROCKOVICH: Well yes, and I mean there`s also documentation out there, Dr. Drew, that a lot of we`re aware of. And I am not going to sit here as the expert, as a doctor, but clearly it should make an association with certain compounds and certain different types of disorders.
With TCE, we are looking at central nervous system effects -
PINSKY: Parkinson`s. Parkinson-like symptoms.
BROCKOVICH: Parkinson`s disease. We have people in the community already reporting this beyond the 12 girls. ALS.
So these are things that we have to look at, and we`re never going to know if we don`t take the time to stop and learn and listen from the very community that`s been exposed to that contamination.
PINSKY: And my understanding is that you`re - you`re concerned about the community of Caledonia, which is the other direction that the plume was moving where you`re starting to hear reports of similar kinds of syndromes.
BROCKOVICH: We are, and even ATSDR reports that that next city could be the one that is in the front of the path of this storm, if you will.
PINSKY: Now Bob, you wanted to do a soil vapor extraction, is that right?
PINSKY: That`s something the EPA should have done on these to see what`s really going on in the soil?
PINSKY: Why weren`t you able to do that?
BOWCOCK: We were pretty much denied access to get into the school property at all. After they finally - you saw the confrontation on the earlier tape. After that confrontation, they allowed the parents and I, without media, to walk the school grounds, but I had a police officer shadowing me, I mean literally everywhere.
PINSKY: So -
BOWCOCK: When he wanted to go to the bathroom -
PINSKY: Did you get enough? Did you get enough material to say something?
BOWCOCK: Oh, absolutely. I was able to look at the school grounds and analyze and -
PINSKY: You took soil samples?
BOWCOCK: No. No. I have laboratory analysis -
PINSKY: You have no laboratory -
BOWCOCK: Not from the school site.
PINSKY: Is there any pending from the surrounding area?
BOWCOCK: Absolutely. We`ve done VOC panels on three groundwater wells in the vicinity, almost in ideal sites, at three different depths.
PINSKY: Are you testing something different than the health - the New York state health agencies and the EPA would test for? I mean, they - they say everything`s clear. Is that because they only test for stuff that you`re not - that you`re testing for more?
BOWCOCK: The school and the New York Department of Health have not tested for anything. They hired an ROP program in the community, which is literally local students, to come in and do air temperature, humidity, and CO2. They`ve not done anything else.
PINSKY: The New York state health agency did that?
BOWCOCK: No, the school district did -
PINSKY: The school district? But what about the state? The state`s saying it`s all clear.
BOWCOCK: The state was then provided a copy of that analysis, and they`ve -
PINSKY: I see. And why isn`t the EPA coming in and do soil vapor analysis? Would the EPA what to do that?
BROCKOVICH: We`d like to know as well as you would.
PINSKY: Finally - I`ve less than 30 seconds, ladies and gentlemen. And that`s why do you think they showed up now, and why just 15 girls? Why isn`t it - you`re saying it is a bigger, broader scatter, we just hadn`t heard about it. We`re going to be hearing about all these other cases coming up, so it`s not just the 15 girls in your mind.
But any - I`ve got 20 seconds. Any thoughts why just now?
BROCKOVICH: Well, I shared them with you. I think there`s possibility - listen, these girls weren`t sudden implants into this area. They`ve grown up out there. They may have been living on top of a contaminated plume that went unchecked for 25 years --
PINSKY: And Bob, you think there may be some concentrated area of that plume that really got them, pow, all at once?
BOWCOCK: Absolutely. Something happened this summer.
Next, we`re going to investigate the train derailment we had mentioned - we`ve been talking about all these last couple days. You`re going to actually walk right on through it, see the site, see what happened.
And we`re going to talk to a dad who is raising a newborn just a mile from where the accident happened. Check it out, stay with us. Don`t go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY (voice-over): Coming up, could the tics and twitches suffered by more than a dozen Rochester area teens be the result of conversion disorder? I will explain what that is.
But first, a train, some chemicals, and an accident. What, if anything, do they have to do with it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: All right. Now, before I get to the story here, I`ve got to share with you something that Bob just told me as he walked in the studio. The EPA, which is the Environmental Protection Agency, you spoke to them just before you got here.
BOB BOWCOCK, ERIN BROCKOVICH ASSOCIATE: Correct.
PINSKY: And what did they tell you?
BOWCOCK: That it`s been a number of years since they have actually looked at the site, and frankly, that they might have just dropped the ball on this one.
PINSKY: So, the EPA is admitting that they dropped the ball. Aren`t they sending like armies up there to go get on top of this now? Are they concerned about the people living up there?
BOWCOCK: I`ve spoken with some of the people in the community today, and apparently, there`s been a flurry of activity. Some new fencing going off, some new no trespass signs. A lot of that that --
PINSKY: So, you can`t walk on this -- you just drink the water that comes from the site?
BOWCOCK: So, yes, we got a flurry of activity. Much like the five police officers that met me on Saturday.
PINSKY: And then, I did some morning television today, and one of the interviewers said 30 years, something happened 30 years ago, and you guys reacted to that by saying what?
ERIN BROCKOVICH, ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST: Well, because this is just the way they go. When I started back in situation to Hinckley, California, the original spill it happened in the 1960s. It wasn`t until the 1980s that it kind of caught up with people`s health, that they even kind of started coming forward and saying anything.
So, it`s not like this contaminations just hit the ground, and suddenly, you have a symptom tomorrow. It takes time. So, this plume moves. It`s expanded. Obviously, it`s gone for miles. It`s is not uncommon for people to live in a contaminated area for 10, 20 years, not even know it, and here, all of a sudden, we see an influx of disease and reporting a problem, and we`re suddenly surprised.
PINSKY: OK. So, now, let me reset. We`re going to talk about the train accident now. So, we have more than a dozen students at this New York high school and junior high school continue to suffer from uncontrollable tics and twitches. According to news reports, eight were effected by the end of October, 12 by the time the Department of Health completed the investigation in January.
I`ve heard that investigation was sort of, perhaps, spurious. The big question remains, what is causing the illness? Could it be linked to the train derailment decades ago? Watch this.
PINSKY (voice-over): It was front page news when 25 railroad cars jumped the tracks. The date, December 6, 1970 at 3:30 a.m. in the darkness of a Sunday morning at the intersection with Gulf Road. Two cars completely ruptured, spilling an industrial solvent, trichloroethylene or TCE. 30,000 gallons of TCE were estimated to have seeped into the ground, none was recovered.
The contents of a third car, cyanide in crystalline form were partially spilled. It`s believed that much of this was collected and contained. The crash site is about three miles from Le Roy`s Junior Senior High School. The school was built on one swampy land that has seen its share of seepage and drainage problems over the decade.
Eight days after the derailment, December 14th, 1970, the smell of TCE was detected in the basement of a hotel 200 feet from the derailment site according to the EPA. Could what went into the ground and air 40 years ago explain what`s causing trouble for some residents today?
PINSKY (on-camera): Now, according to a 1997 report by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on the train derailment, here we go, one week after the spill in December of 1970, owners of two wells located just east of the derailment site noticed the trichloroethylene in their water.
June 1971, the railroad company started providing drinking water to residents with contaminated wells. And later, they installed charcoal filtering systems at the affected wells. By November 1971, seven wells were confirmed as contaminated.
Now, Thomas Yauchzee, he lived just one mile from the derailment site and was -- there you are, Thomas -- raised an infant at the time. Do you have concerns for your family? Is your family OK? Do you remember these incidents where you were being provided with drinking water?
THOMAS YAUCHZEE, LIVES ONE MILE FROM TRAIN DERAILMENT SITE IN LE ROY, NY: Took them awhile before they even notified us, or actually, they didn`t notify us that there was anything even spilled. Just probably almost a month before we realized it was in our water.
PINSKY: And once -- And I imagine you said you were raising an infant at that time, and they started providing you with drinking water. Wasn`t that sort of a -- didn`t that make people wonder what was going on?
YAUCHZEE: Yes, it did. I mean, we definitely knew there was something wrong.
PINSKY: And have you noticed, have you seen problems in the community since then? Do you share Erin Brockovich`s concern that people are having medical issues from that spill?
YAUCHZEE: Personally, I can`t really say that it would be coming from that spill from information we`ve been getting.
PINSKY: OK. Now, I want to repeat, according to the EPA, samplings of private wells between 1990 and 1994, this is now over 20 years later, detected TCE, trichloroethylene, known carcinogen, known neurotoxin, and by the way, again, with various kinds of neurological symptoms associated with it. They found this in 50 wells located east or southeast of the site. That is their quote.
The EPA then stalled water treatment systems at 37 locations where the TCE levels were really high, and of course, as I said, we talked about the EPA and then having dropped the ball on this one, and we`ll be talking more about this during the week, but that wasn`t enough, was it, what they did.
YAUCHZEE: No, No.
PINSKY: And that`s what we`re saying. And Thomas, do you have concerns about what`s going on in your community?
YAUCHZEE: Yes, I do.
YAUCHZEE: I think they have a problem there at that school. There`s no doubt about it.
PINSKY: OK. So, that`s what you guys have been saying, that there`s something there at the school.
BROCKOVICH: Well, absolutely. And the thing that we`re going to go back to time and time again is not to sit here and place blame or say that the problem with the girls is because of this. We cannot exclude the fact that the spill occurred. It`s on-going. It hasn`t been remediated. It could be playing a roll in these girls` health. It could be playing a roll in the community`s health.
They want some answers, and that`s simply what we`re looking and what we`re asking agencies who have a due diligence to go out there and do. When you know you have a spill like this and you have a community complaining of health problems and girls who are being affected at a school for unknown reasons, it begs of you to go do water testing, soil testing, and soil vapor testing, and no one has done that.
PINSKY: And even if we, let`s just take the girls off the table, and say you know what, they`re having something unrelated to this, you guys have uncovered a disaster. Is that a proper way to describe this? Bob, you said you`ve never seen anything like this in your entire career.
BOWCOCK: Yes. When you have this concentration of TCE that literally goes unremediated for over 40 years, and then that part which was the testing was put in 55 gallon drums only to rot and leak right back into the environment, at the end of 41 years, the federal government, the United States Environmental Protection Agency who`s here to assist the public literally says not one ounce of this chemical has been officially removed from the environment.
They drilled up a bunch, put it in 55 gallon drums, and let it leak right back into the environment.
BROCKOVICH: It`s very disturbing. And we`ve had this conversation before. And I think it`s very disappointing to the community of Le Roy. See, they expect and believe that these agencies were in place to protect them, and they failed them.
PINSKY: They failed them, and they sounds like they`re starting to admit it and take action and stuff. I want to remind people that we`re trying to make things better, not place blame and not, you know, create hysteria.
BROCKOVICH: Don`t want to sit here on their soap box, because that will do no good.
PINSKY: Yes. Let`s even say the girls have nothing to do with this, I don`t want more people to be hurt by this. You`ve uncovered something that I would like to see remediated.
BROCKOVICH: Absolutely. And once we find some answers, see, that`s where you begin to find solutions. And you never find answers if you cover up or you don`t ask these questions or get involved in the way that you have.
PINSKY: Good point. Now, we have been efforting (ph) a statement from the company that purchased the railroad freight line after the derailment, and we will hopefully come up with something soon enough. They`re welcome to ring in here. We`ll be, obviously, continue to cover this story.
But next up, the medical mystery in upstate New York. We`re going to talk more about its possible causes. We`re going to swing back around and talk about the symptoms. The girls are showing symptoms of something that some people are calling a conversion reaction. We`re going to talk about that. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOWCOCK: Two things happened is if that lake existed at the time of the spill, there was direct communication with the groundwater table, that`s number one. Number two is, they made the problem even worse, I don`t know whether you read in the reports or not, but what they actually did was, they came out here and the chemical had saturated the soil.
And they were like how are we going to get this stuff clean up? So, they came in and they dug trenches. And then, they took water and tried to hose it into the ground was the way they tried to get rid of it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHELSEY DUMARS, SUFFERS FROM MYSTERIOUS ILLNESS: I was happy before it all happened. I cheered. I hung out with my friends. I hate when that happens, because my body is sore. Sometimes, it gets me to the point that I want to cry from twitching so much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: Welcome back. That was Chelsey Dumars, another girl afflicted with this medical condition in upstate New York. And since we started covering this story two weeks ago, we have been overwhelmed with Facebook comments, e-mails from concerned viewers and parents all wanting to know what caused, answer, what caused these tics, the Tourette`s-like syndrome.
Back with me, environmental activist, Erin Brockovich and her associate, Bob Bowcock. Joining me now is a father whose daughter suffers from the medical mystery, and he is looking for answers. It`s James Dupont.
Also now, I`ve got a couple of doctors and we`re going to try to tone this conversation down, but I want to bring it back to the medical a little. Dr. Michael Dobs is with me and pediatric neurologist, Dr. Max Wiznitzer. I hope I pronounce your name right sir. What is it Dr. Wiznitzer -- that`s it? What do you think when you first heard this story?
DR. MAX WIZNITZER, PEDIATRIC NEUROLOGIST: When I first heard that, we have a number of individuals who developed these movements very quickly one after the other. I don`t think necessarily that we`re talking about some sort of toxic exposure. It could be a few individuals who truly have tics or Tourette`s syndrome which is an involuntary movement disorder that effects motor movements and vocal noises that you can make.
But the other ones as mentioned before that you have to look at them each one by themselves, and determine is there a quality to them that would suggest that these are good organic causation, which means there`s a reason for it that you can identify from a medical standpoint and something going on with the brain or does it have some underpinning in it that we would call it conversion disorder?
PINSKY: Now, I was doing a little bit of research on tics and Tourette`s the last couple days, obviously, I`ve been sort of captivated by the story. And as I read the literature, it`s very poorly localized. The biology has been poorly worked out. The toxic causes and the genetic causes have been very poorly worked out.
That`s why some of this controversy about the panda syndrome. People debate whether it has OCD or -- or is Tourette`s an auto immune disorder? I saw those kinds of discussions in the literature. So, isn`t it difficult to say that it`s not a toxic agent causing this?
WIZNITZER: In this situation, when you`re talking about TCE and you look up what TCE does, TCE causes a loss of function from the nervous symptom standpoint. It`s a nervous system depressant. It makes you unsteady. It causes mental status, changes in terms of not -- being foggy, not being as responsive. It was mentioned in Parkinson`s disease which is a loss of function.
We`re not talking about the loss of function here. We`re talking about a difference or change in movements or too many movements going on. And, this is different than a PANDAS type of a picture. And just for the audience`s standpoint, PANDAS is what`s called Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Strep Infection.
It`s been expanded to actually be associated with other kinds of infections, very rare. It has a biologic basis and an underpinning that would explain it. Here, you can`t say that something like TCE is causing something like this very quickly and very rapidly. Each case has to be looked at individually. You have to ask questions. Is it something for a real movement or is it something that has another explanation.
PINSKY: OK. So, I don`t disagree with anything you`re saying, as a matter of fact. And by the way, this document, this documents -- documents, the various neurological syndromes associated with TCE, and it`s not -- it`s protean. In other words, it`s varying kinds of manifestations of TCE. And there`s its congeners.
Other things like vocal (ph) cord, there are things that they could be exposed to, but that`s why I want to bring in Dr. Dobbs. Now, Dr. Dobbs, you have some expertise in the neurotoxicity of various kinds of chemicals. And I what I understood, your position is, and this may not be accurate, but I`m curious, is that this the specific toxicology of these various kinds of agents is somewhat of a fledgling field?
MICHAEL DOBBS, UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY NEUROLOGIST: That is correct, Dr. Drew. There are thousands of chemicals, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of chemicals that we work with, and probably, a thousand of them are known to be neurotoxic. The other tens of thousands, we really don`t know. As far as linking neurotoxic syndromes with particular toxins, it is a field that is in its infancy.
We`re still working out the bugs on that. There are many chemicals out there that we suspect, but we just don`t have definable syndromes or ways to diagnose that symptoms and illnesses related to these toxins.
PINSKY: And Erin, you`re going to go out and put a pretty wide swathe out there and look for various kinds of chemicals, not just TCE, and --
BROCKOVICH: Oh, absolutely. You have to consider that, and the community is reporting that. So, we will take all of that into account. And just as you said, it breaks down to (INAUDIBLE). Absolutely.
PINSKY: Yes. Now, Jim Dupont, I want you to do me a favor. You`re around the girls with the syndrome. I want Dr. Wiznitzer or maybe I`ll even define the conversion syndrome, if you could, I think we have a full screen that I can show to people so they understand what the conversion syndrome typically is. Usually, it comes after a stressful condition or even a trauma.
It`s often associated with people with medical illness, dissociative disorder, personality disorders, symptoms include poor coordination or balance, paralysis in an arm or leg, inability to speak, blindness, vision problems, seizures, convulsions. So, Jim, does in any way that fit the girls that you know?
Is there anything that we can sort of hang on that particular group of girls that sort of -- I know Dr. Wiznitzer says we have to put them all individually, but I`m curious. You`re the one there with them. Does it sound anything like these girls?
JAMES DUPONT, DAUGHTER SUFFERS FROM MEDICAL ILLNESS: No. They do not exhibit those type of symptoms. They exhibit a Tourette-type of a symptom with head jerks, involuntary vocal outbursts, arm swinging movements like a Tourette-type symptom.
PINSKY: And Jim, how about the pre-existing idea that they had either some sort of trauma, personality pathology, pre-existing medical or psychiatric conditions. Do they share those kinds of historical features?
DUPONT: No. To the best of my knowledge, they don`t. I have my own views on that, but to the best of my knowledge, they don`t. A lot of these kids were just, you know, having a happy, normal life. We`ve got some cheerleaders that were honor students, and then, they woke up from a nap and they were twitching.
PINSKY: Jim, when you say you have your own views -- you have your own views. I want to encourage you to share them with us, if you don`t mind. You`re the one there on the ground. You`re a dad.
DUPONT: I would be glad to. I was just listening previously. I think it was Dr. Metzler (ph) there, I can`t see you guys, I`m only guessing.
DUPONT: And he was saying that, you know, he didn`t feel that, you know, this was anything to do with PANDAS thing, and my personal opinion and I`m certainly not a medical professional, but just from all the talking I`ve done to experts, and, now, we`ve got this environmental issue, I think we may have a combination of things. PANDAS usually does have a predisposed condition.
PINSKY: And James, I`m going to interrupt you. Let`s let Dr. Metzler (ph) address that. He is the medical professional. Dr. Metzler, do you have an opinion about that?
WIZNITZER: Are you talking to go? Dr. Wiznitzer?
PINSKY: Yes. Wiznitzer. I beg your pardon.
WIZNITZER: Well, I`ll tell you, you have to be careful. You need to take good detailed histories. Until you get solid information, what may seem to be of near abnormalcy can breakdown. It happens in my clinical practice all the time where when you delve, you can get answers.
And we`re not talking about monster traumas here, anything with that, that would set off a conversion disorder, it could just be a final little straw in individuals. With the issue of PANDAS, I think we have to be very careful not to overcall it.
PINSKY: You`re right. I agree with you. We`ll be back with Erin Brockovich and Bob after this.
PINSKY: All right, guys. So, here`s what`s happening. I asked my entire panel of six -- five folks to stay with me. I hope we can put them all on air. We are all back. I cancelled everything that was planned for this particular segment. Erin, I want to give you last word, and then, I want to have a little thought with my physician colleagues here -- Erin.
BROCKOVICH: I think that everybody that`s on the program tonight is on the exact same page. We are all searching for answers to try to help these 12 girls and this community. And so, let`s go out there and do the appropriate, necessary testing so we have all the data to rule something in or out.
PINSKY: And James, I kept you here just so you would hear this and take it back out to the community. I don`t think I`ll have time to get comment from you, but I want to talk to my physician colleagues, Dr. Wiznitzer and Dr. Dobbs.
You know, guys, sometimes you see something and you go, ah, you know, that deserves a little more attention, and you got a patient or a mom that walks in and says, you know, it`s my instinct. She`s not defensive. She`s not a critical of the team that`s taking care of her kid or herself, but she says, you know what, as an instinct, as a mom, there`s something more going on here.
That`s what got me going here. And don`t you guys agree with me that it warrants a new set of eyes and look around, and it`s OK to take another look at this and see if we can come up with some answers. You guys agree with me?
DOBBS: I agree.
WIZNITZER: Yes. Remember one thing, you got two problems here. One is the question of toxic exposure, the other one is the problem that the girls have. The toxic exposure thing seems to be a real problem. The girls` problem seems to be real. The question is, are they really related or are there different reasons?
We shouldn`t speculate. You have to dig in, use facts, and basically, come to conclusions based on facts, not speculation.
PINSKY: Absolutely. Everyone here is in 100 percent agreement about that. Even James is shaking his head vigorously, even though he has his own theories about the post-streptococcal infection. Yes. The fact is that there`s something going on, and we may have incidentally uncover the toxic issue into this, maybe something that we just fell into, but it needs remediation. It needs to be dealt with.
And it would be kind of weird if you had two extraordinary things going on in the same community. And I want people to think about the fact that now we`re getting this wider report into Caledonia, in and about the Le Roy area of other people having similar syndromes. They`re being little outbreaks of cancer. Again, may or may not be related to what we`re seeing in these girls today, but what`s your bet, Erin?
BROCKOVICH: Well, again, I don`t want to sit here and speculate anything, because I don`t want to ever be accused of creating any kind of hysteria in these communities. I think they`re well under control. It has to be considered, and we have to rule it in or out.
PINSKY: OK. So, that is very much the point of everyone here, which is we want to think this through carefully. We don`t want to cause panic. We don`t want people to feel diminished who are actually out there trying to take care of these girls. They`re the ones actually doing the hard work, and those other (ph) clinicians, again, Dr. Dobbs, Dr. Wiznitzer, you all agree with me.
It is hard work to take care of these kinds of cases. And let that community stay calm, take care of itself. And James, I hope you will - Jim, rather. Jim Dupont, I hope you will take our wishes back to the community and to the girls. I may end up there next weekend. Things are going OK right now for you? I`ve got about 30 seconds left. Everything OK with the girls today?
DUPONT: Yes. I haven`t heard anything else today. I think everybody is just, you know, anticipating some answers in the near future.
PINSKY: And my understanding is you had some PANDAS evaluations over the weekend as well. It`s some autoimmune testing, some sophisticated testing to see if there`s any evidence of anything like that.
PINSKY: So, we will await for those results. And Bob, your results?
PINSKY: We got to go. Bob, your results for when, how long?
BOWCOCK: Three weeks.
PINSKY: Three weeks for Bob results. I want to thank you all for watching. We`ll stay on top of this story. Hope this is as interesting to you as myself, and we`ll see you next time.