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Woman Has Same "Medical Mystery" as NY Teens
Aired January 31, 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. Major developments in the New York Medical Mystery. Another patient comes forward, same symptoms, one key difference. We`ll tell you about it.
Then the doctors who say it`s more psychological than physical and the parents and activists who say no way. Are these families paying for the government`s fumbled response to that 40-year-old disaster?
Let`s get started.
Welcome back. New developments in the disturbing, I`ll get that out. Live television, you`ve got to love it. Disturbing medical mystery that has an Upstate New York town on edge. More than a dozen teens are suffering from tics and Tourette`s-like symptoms, we have been reporting on this. It`s been over a week now.
And tonight, an older woman said she has symptoms. The big question remains, what is causing this? Is it the environment or something else?
We sent a Dr. Drew Team to Le Roy, New York, to get some answers. Joining me, I`ve got Erin Brockovich`s Associate who is conducting tests in Le Roy, Bob Bowcock; Psychiatrist, Dr. John Sharp, he`s on Faculty at Harvard Medical School and author of the book "The Emotional Calendar."
And HLN Correspondent Jim Spellman, Jim is live on the scene. Jim, can you give us the latest?
JIM SPELLMAN, HLN CORRESPONDENT: Sure. Well, listen, Dr. Drew. This new woman who`s come forward, an adult as opposed to these teenage students, really adds a new wrinkle to this mystery of what might possibly connect all the people who are suffering these symptoms. Take a look.
MARGE FITZSIMMONS, DIAGNOSED WITH CONVERSION DISORDER: In my appearance -
SPELLMAN (voice-over): For the first time, an adult is coming forward and showing the same symptoms as a group of students in Upstate New York. Thirty-six-year-old Marge Fitzsimmons says her physical and verbal tics began last October, around the same time as the teens.
Just like them, she was diagnosed with conversion disorder brought on by stress and in her case, childhood trauma.
FITZSIMMONS: My doctor said your stress tolerance level is here, your stress level is here, so everything that you`ve ever suppressed in your whole life has just erupted like a volcano.
SPELLMAN: But some experts including a team led by environment activist Erin Brockovich have suggested there may be an environmental link, focusing on the site of a 1970 train derailment that spilled over 30,000 gallons of the toxic chemical TCE.
Marge said that crash site is close to a quarry and pond where she spent time as a teenager.
FITZSIMMONS: Yes. We used to hang out in the quarry. We used to do what teenagers do when you get a group together.
SPELLMAN (on camera): This is the quarry where Marge Fitzsimmons tells us that she came as a teenager and would hang out. And other people in town have told us that they came here and would hang out as teenagers, and they might drink beer and party like teenagers sometimes do.
You can see over there the building that`s part of the quarry, and these giant stacks of rubble of different sizes. She tells me they would sit on top of these very stacks while they were hanging out and partying at night. You can see how close they are to the crash site. That red container is where the train derailed in 1970.
The site of the derailment is just a couple of 100 yards straight down this way. The train tracks ran right along here. You can still see a few of the railroad (INAUDIBLE) left over and they removed most of the train tracks. Marge tells us that they would often come swimming at this pond right down here very close to the crash site.
Do you have any thoughts on whether you think that that - that that site or any environmental type of condition may have contributed to what you`re going through?
FITZSIMMONS: At this point I have to have faith in my doctors. All the lab work and CAT scans and MRIs that I have done have come back within range, within the normal range limits. So if it ends up being environmental, then does that mean that I don`t have hope of getting better? You know, these are thoughts that go through my head.
SPELLMAN: So there she still believes that it`s conversion disorder is what`s behind this. She`s keeping an open mind as these investigations go to an environmental possibility or environmental cause.
I notice, Dr. Drew, than when we spoke of the possibility of there being environmental cause, that`s when her tic got the worse. It`s definitely something that really concerns her, because she fears that maybe that means there`s been a permanent change to her physiology somehow - Dr. Drew.
PINSKY: Right, Jim. So let me reflect on what you`ve just said, which is that conversion disorders get better, toxic injuries to the brain do not, so from a prognostic standpoint, it might be better if this all ends up being conversion at least for most of these kids and for this woman particularly.
Jim, I have another question for you. What`s your sense of the mood in the town and the community? Are they OK? Are they concerned? Everybody sort of looking forward to answers?
SPELLMAN: Yes. I think people here really are looking forward to answers and a lot of people that are afraid that it`s going to have an impact on business. We`ve heard people are already talking about real estate, with being tough for people to sell homes since this has happened. They fear that they`re going to be moving into some sort of toxic, you know, grounds and they`re fearful it`s going to have an impact on the economy.
So they don`t want anybody to panic or go overboard, but on the other hand, look, these are kids, you know? We saw Marge`s story today, but by and large these are children and they`re children of the whole community, not just these families. So people do want the answers and are pretty shocked that 40 years after this derailment this is still an on-going issue. So they definitely want those answers but without sort of inciting any kind of panic here, Dr. Drew.
PINSKY: Well, Jim, I want to thank you for this excellent reporting. We`re going to continue to get stories from you throughout the week here.
I want to turn to Bob Bowcock, who is Erin Brockovich`s associate. Of course, I always have a million questions for you. Do they have legitimate concerns about their real estate value? Now, obviously, let me just preface this by saying we are doing this because there are concerns about young people who - and moms who`ve asked for some help, and if there`s anybody that has any expertise that can look further into this, that`s what got us into this.
We didn`t intend to panic the community or lower real estate values. Is that a legitimate concern? You tell me.
BOB BOWCOCK, ENVIRONMENT INVESTIGATOR: I have no concern about the real estate values at this point in time because I have no evidence as to the extent and size of the plume. I will tell you from my experience that when we go into locations where there are Superfund sites with chemical plumes, that the homes impacted by those plumes do suffer property damages, and ultimately loss of property value.
PINSKY: In the direct line of fire of a plume.
BOWCOCK: In the direct line of the plume that are impacting homes.
PINSKY: Is that likely to be many homes in this community?
BOWCOCK: Right now, I would estimate that it`s probably in the range of up to 100 pieces of property.
PINSKY: OK. So it`s not the entire community.
BOWCOCK: Oh, absolutely not.
PINSKY: And the entire community doesn`t need to turn to bottled water right now, do they?
BOWCOCK: No, absolutely not.
PINSKY: So we don`t need to panic.
PINSKY: OK. All right. The other - there`s so many other issues. The other issue is you had mentioned that you had some concerns about the EPA`s performance in cleaning this all up, right?
PINSKY: OK. I want to read a response of the EPA, that they had a response to this so-called mysterious illness. I`m going to quote it in just a second. And you actually said that you thought - hang on. Don`t roll it. I`ve got to read it. I`ve got to read it verbatim, so we`re going to keep it up. Thank you.
You had a concern that they`ve dropped the ball, and we`re going to talk about what you meant by that in just a second.
But first, I want to read their concerns. They seem to be on the scene right now. But here is their, quote, their response. "The EPA is aware of the parents and the community`s concerns and we`re working closely with the school district and all of the involved state agencies to give them information related to the Superfund site about four miles from the school. As we gather all the facts, we will keep the community, our state partners and our school district up to date."
All right. So what is it they did? What is it - how do you think they dropped the ball?
BOWCOCK: It`s not so much what they did. It`s what they haven`t done, and it`s ultimately about the fact that they literally have all but admitted that they have not been back in the community since 2008.
PINSKY: OK. Now, in 2006 - March, 1997, I have this document which was the state`s review of what needed to be done to clean everything up.
PINSKY: Now mind you, this is already 25 years later -
PINSKY: -- a bit of a concern, but OK. And the EPA at that point, I have this letter from the EPA where they`re saying not good enough. And this is the railroad company that had sanctioned this, right? Or the insurance company for the railroad company?
BOWCOCK: This document is the State of New York.
BOWCOCK: This document is the federal government, the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
PINSKY: OK. So the EPA came in and said, OK, State of New York, not good enough.
PINSKY: And then what happened? So they put this letter on this one and said we`re taking over.
PINSKY: They took over in `97, and what happened?
BOWCOCK: Well, they took over in `98.
PINSKY: `98, OK.
BOWCOCK: And they put it on the National Pollution - they put it in the NPLS, the Environmental Protection, it`s the Superfund site list.
PINSKY: And the Superfunds to define for people are toxic sites that need to be cleaned, right?
BOWCOCK: They`re usually toxic sites that need to be cleaned where there is no polluter that can pay for that cleanup.
BOWCOCK: The federal government gets funds from other cleanup sites to clean up the orphans, those that have no funds to be cleaned up.
PINSKY: Insurance companies that are suing, that kind of thing.
PINSKY: OK. So the EPA does not have money to do this. Let`s be clear.
BOWCOCK: Correct, correct.
PINSKY: The EPA has no money to do this, which is stunning to me. Erin said this to me as she walked out the door, and I went what? And they get the money to clean this kind of situation up from suits of other insurance companies.
PINSKY: Wow. OK. So they clean it up and tell me, so go ahead.
BOWCOCK: So a contribution would go into a Superfund. They actually do have a responsible party on the hook for this.
PINSKY: OK. So `97, they say we`re going to take it up, we`re going to do this, and what happens?
BOWCOCK: They really didn`t do a whole lot.
PINSKY: OK. So the EPA takes over and they said we`re going to do this. We`re going to clean this thing up. We`re going to pump it all out of the ground, and then they went ahead and did nothing?
BOWCOCK: Correct. They commissioned studies.
PINSKY: They commissioned studies.
BOWCOCK: They commissioned studies.
PINSKY: And those 2003 and 2006 studies.
PINSKY: And what did those studies show?
BOWCOCK: Those studies, basically they haven`t been published. There are -
PINSKY: So we don`t know.
BOWCOCK: We don`t know. We don`t know. We don`t know exactly what they say.
PINSKY: All right. We`ve got to take a break.
And Dr. Sharp, I`m sorry I haven`t gotten to you. I just want to clarify so much of this environmental stuff, because it gets very, very confusing. And I hope you at home will permit me to kind of walk through this.
Because we may have two stories here. We may have the toxic dumping which, again, the EPA has merely moved in and started moving stuff around. We`re actually going to talk about the EPA`s response later in the show. We`re going to go through it systematically and what they`re doing now and whether it`s anything useful, and you`ll tell me, Bob, whether it is or not.
BOWCOCK: Sure, sure.
PINSKY: Dr. Sharp, you`ll stay with me and we`re going to talk about the other story that may or may not link with this, which is that of the girls.
Coming up, mothers whose daughters are suffering from this illness, tell us how this is affecting their lives. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FITZSIMMONS: When it first started, it was almost like an us and them type of feeling that I got, and I can only speak for myself, but that`s kind of the feeling that I got, and so I didn`t say anything because I didn`t, you know, I didn`t want to be part of the contaminated people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHELSEA DUMAR, SUFFERING FROM MYSTERIOUS ILLNESS: I was happy before it all happened. I cheered. I hung out with my friends. I hate it when that happens because my body is sore. By like 4:00, I`m exhausted because my body is just so worn out from moving so much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: That was Chelsea Dumar suffering from this medical mystery.
Health officials think these affected teens in Upstate New York might have a psychiatric condition called conversion disorder. And actually tomorrow night, we`re going to go into that in great detail and sort of work out for you exactly what that is.
We`ve been talking with famed Activist Erin Brockovich and she says there is another explanation. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIN BROCKOVICH: One of the family members, somebody put a note in their mailbox, and it was about a 1971 derailment, and the contaminated rock and fill and soil was used to build the new school.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: So Erin`s team says that rocks and soil contaminated from that spill might have been used to build the school, or were used. It might have something to do with this mystery.
I`m back with Erin`s associate, Bob Bowcock; Harvard medical psychiatrist Dr. John Sharp, and - Harvard Medical School psychiatrist, I should say.
And joining us now are two of the mothers of the teen girls, Charlene Leubner and Lana Clark. Guys, thank you so much for joining us.
Charlene, first to you, how is your daughter doing?
CHARLENE LEUBNER, MOTHER OF GIRL WITH "MEDICAL MYSTERY": She`s actually doing pretty good. She - it comes and goes from time to time. Sometimes it`s really bad, sometimes it doesn`t bother her at all. Right now, she`s doing good.
PINSKY: And Lana, how about your daughter?
LANA CLARK, MOTHER OF GIRL WITH "MEDICAL MYSTERY": She`s doing very well. She - a lot better than she was doing. She has good days and she has bad days.
PINSKY: What is - as moms, this is what - again, the mothering instinct is what - it was Melisa`s sort of instinct and cry for help that got me into this case. What is your guys instinct about what`s going on here? Either of you, but please, one of you respond, then the other.
CLARK: Well, my primary care doctor told us, when we first told him what was going on, that it could possibly be a poisoning, and he suggested that I take my daughter to (INAUDIBLE) right away.
After talking to the school nurse, I found out that other girls were involved, and she said that they were recommending everybody go to Dent Neurology to see Dr. McVie. So I called my primary care doctor and told him that`s where everybody was going and, you know, and that I had set up an appointment for my daughter that Thursday.
PINSKY: Lana, let me follow up, and Charlene I`m sorry, I`m interrupting before you have a chance to answer, but what - does - do these girls all know each other? Were they aware that somebody was ticing and twitching? Do you think that that theory holds water, that - or was there someplace that they all went they all could have been exposed to something? What do you guys think about that?
LEUBNER: As far as we know, the school is the only thing that they have in common.
PINSKY: And how about as far as knowing one another and - or knowing that somebody had developed tics and twitches? Is that something that makes sense to you, that these girls knew each other well enough that they could be exposed to one another`s symptoms or have heard about one another`s symptoms?
CLARK: They all didn`t know each other, no. They - there was talk going around the school, you know, with various girls and stuff like that, but it was nobody that - it wasn`t anybody that they hung out with or anything like that.
PINSKY: Dr. Sharp, let me turn to you. Charlene, I`m going to - I`m going to break for one second here. Does the fact that they didn`t know each other, is that meaningful in the diagnosis or just kind of hearing about it is sufficient to bring up the possibility of a mass conversion?
DR. JOHN SHARP, PSYCHIATRIST, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: Well, if there`s something emotional that`s causing that contagion, then there really has to be some kind of a connection between the individuals. If they -
PINSKY: They know each other.
SHARP: They do. And I suspect that there`s going to be more that comes out. I don`t think that we know yet that there`s not a deeper, secret connection. In fact, I`ve talked to some of the treaters who say that they can actually connect the dots between these girls in a way that hasn`t been publicly announced.
PINSKY: So there`s a relationship, some key person that they all know or some such thing?
SHARP: Indeed. And that would help explain the social contagion of this. You know, it`s not infectious in the sense of a germ, but it does pass from one person to another.
PINSKY: And I`m - I want to talk throughout this week about, as a clinician, taking care of conversion. Again, as I said, I`m going to take - come and discuss this a lot more tomorrow night, but I`ve seen a lot of conversion in my career. I was the medical director at a psychiatric hospital and I was always being asked, is this medical? Is this medical? Is it conversion or not?
And I don`t - a lot of conversion - and I started having a very specific emotional reaction to conversion, which is sort of like a frustration feeling, and I`m used to - some of the girls I see, and like, OK, there`s that old feeling again. But I look at a lot of them and don`t get that that we call counter transference. I just don`t get that. And so -
SHARP: An experienced clinician can really use his or her own reaction -
PINSKY: Feelings -
SHARP: -- to guide you. And so I think it`s significant that you don`t find yourself feeling a typical way.
PINSKY: Well, that`s what - that`s what keeps me moving ahead with these other theories. I just want to look into it.
Charlene, I`ve got just one minute left here. What`s your sense of what this all is? Then I got to take a break. I may have to interrupt you. I`m sorry if I do. But go ahead.
LEUBNER: I`m not quite sure. I think it has something to do with the spill. And, like I said, I`m not sure, though. I`m hoping that we figure it out soon, though, so we can get these girls better.
We`ve got to take a break here. Now, the next segment, we`re going to be taking questions from our viewers and we`re all the same panel is going to be here to talk about it and answer those questions.
More about what might be causing this illness we`ll be talking about, of course, when I answer these questions. I`d advise you all to go on over to HLNtv.com for much more on this story. And a reminder that tomorrow, again, we`re going to get more into conversion. Later on in this show, we`re going to be getting more into what the EPA`s response has been now. Again, that`s breaking news.
And, coming up, parents whose teens are suffering from this. Their stories and reactions to your questions. That all is just ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FITZSIMMONS: I do. I do. I have a three-year-old, my boyfriend and I. She is the whole reason I get out of bed right now. She`s the only thing keeping me going.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: Welcome back.
We are talking about the medical mystery in Upstate New York, hoping to find answers to a problem that has consumed, let`s say, an entire community.
Now, Dr. Sharp, I have a question to you to start, and by the way, we`re going to be taking questions from the - from the audience. But should - if this is a conversion disorder, should we expect to see more cases over the weeks and months ahead?
SHARP: If it`s a conversion cluster, Drew, we`d see an increase in cases to a point. We don`t exactly know what that is. It may have already passed, and then you start to see a decrease.
It`s a very treatable condition, so in terms of treatment, conversion is not a bad answer to this question.
PINSKY: Well - and a reminder that if it`s a toxic insult to the brain, that`s a worse prognostic situation than conversion.
And what we just heard for - we have Charlene and Lana out there in Le Roy and I want to go to you guys. I`ve got a bunch of Facebook questions. The first one just came to me.
It`s from Susan on Facebook, "What do you say - what do you say to people out there who insist these girls are faking?"
LEUBNER: Live with the girls for just one week and you`ll see that they`re not faking. You can`t fake something like this. It`s way too much pain, and just the way that they twitch or the way that their outbursts are, it`s impossible to fake.
PINSKY: And let`s - a reminder that conversion is not faking. It`s not malingering, which is a different disorder.
SHARP: It`s not conscious. You just can`t say snap out of it.
SHARP: You`ve got to find a way to address an underlying problem.
PINSKY: And then, Doctor, you actually brought an article which I found interesting. You have - can I - can I have that article? It`s an article he just brought in from an academic setting about the occurrence of mental illness following early childhood exposure to trichloroethylene.
We`ve been talking about - excuse me, tetrachloroethylene. We`ve been talking about trichloroethylene. And what they found is that people who were exposed to this in drinking water had more psychiatric symptomatology later on. So there`s another possible link.
A reminder that psychiatric symptoms come from the brain, and the brain, we don`t fully understand it and there could be limited insults that could predispose to bringing out something like a conversion.
SHARP: We`re affected by the environment, both, you know, toxically and in terms of healing as well.
PINSKY: It`s very interesting.
Let`s go to another Facebook question. So Rick, he writes, "Dr. Drew, I`m from Le Roy. What`s the best way to keep my friends and neighbors from panicking about this situation?"
Gentlemen, do you have a response to that? I hope - we do not want to cause a panic. We do not want to - nor do we want to undermine the care of the clinicians that are rendering the care out there in Le Roy.
SHARP: The problem already exists. By shedding light on it, we`re finding a way to lead towards a solution.
PINSKY: I hope so.
SHARP: I mean, we`re not creating a problem. You`re doing a great job of showing what the problem is so that we can solve it.
PINSKY: Resolve it. I hope so. We don`t - we don`t want more trouble. We want less trouble. That`s the idea.
One more Facebook question. It`s Denise, who writes, "Bob Bowcock, what are your early suspicions to what the results of your soil and water samples will reveal?" That`s an interesting question.
BOWCOCK: Yes. First of all, I did not take any soil samples. We were only able to gather the water samples. I took them, as I explained last night, at various depths to kind of get a good composite of what was going on out there.
I`m suspicious that at least half of them are going to come back positive for the TCE --
PINSKY: For TCE. You just can`t predict the concentrations?
BOWCOCK: Yes. I just don`t know at what level. Correct.
PINSKY: OK. I`m going to - I`ve got other Facebook questions but I`m really running out of time. I want to just turn to Charlene and Lana and thank you guys for coming on the show. And please keep us updated. Let`s - there we are.
Please keep us updated and send our - you know, our positive wishes, our good thoughts to the girls. I`m glad they`re feeling better. And, you know, stay with the team you`re with, keep following direction. They`re getting better. That`s what`s really important right here, OK?
And thanks for sharing with us, OK?
LEUBNER: Thank you.
CLARK: Thank you.
PINSKY: OK, guys.
Now, when we come back, a father - now we`re going to talk to a dad, who wants to answer questions - he wants answers to his questions surrounding his daughter`s behavior.
For more on this story or any other, go on over to HLNtv.com. Back after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY (voice-over): Coming up, did the EPA drop the ball after a train derailment 40 years ago? What did and didn`t the agency allegedly do after potentially hazardous chemicals spilled in a train derailment in Le Roy, New York.
But first, we`ll hear from a parent whose daughter is affected by something. What is causing her tics and twitches? Is the school the common thread that ties more than a dozen medical mystery cases together?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY (on-camera): Welcome back. Now, the entire Investigation began because concerned parents refused just to watch their kids suffering. Doctors diagnosed these teenagers with a conversion reaction, conversion disorder, a psychosomatic syndrome that can be caused by stress, trauma, contagion, power of suggestion.
Now, that isn`t sitting well or hasn`t sat well with some of these parents. Two of them called Erin Brockovich and her team to the scene to investigate a decades old toxic spill. The parents want to know why their once normal teenagers are now acting like this. Take a look.
PINSKY (voice-over): The story began with strange symptoms that abruptly hit a group of teenage girls, and it keeps coming back to their suffering. For Lydia Parker, the pain has forced her to rely at times on a wheelchair.
LYDIA PARKER, SUFFERS FROM UNEXPLAINED TICS AND TWITCHES: If I stand for more than a couple minutes, they just give out.
PINSKY: The bruises on her face further evidence.
PARKER: I hit my head on my bed set, and then, I ended up punching myself in the face with my phone.
PINSKY: Chelsey Dumar is racked by the same chronic pain.
CHELSEY DUMARS, SUFFERS FROM MYSTERIOUS ILLNESS: I hate when it happens, because my body is sore. Sometimes, it gets me to the point that I want to cry.
PINSKY: And then, there is Thera Sanchez who seems to have the worst symptoms of all the teens.
THERA SANCHEZ, SUFFERS FROM UNEXPLAINED TICS AND TWITCHES: I want an answer, a straight answer.
PINSKY: These teens would give anything to have their old lives back, even the sometimes mundane practice of attending classes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When was the last time you were back?
PARKER: Last week of October.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you being tutored now?
PINSKY: Perhaps adding to their frustration, a diagnosis that suggests the cause is more psychological than physical. A conversion disorder is what`s known as a psychogenic condition.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What happens is there, traditionally, some kind of a stressor or multiple stressors that provoke a physical reaction.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What does exactly mean to you?
PARKER: They didn`t explain it to me. All I know is it is based on stress, and I don`t agree with it.
PINSKY: Neither does Katie Krautword (ph) who voiced her concerns with the diagnosis on the "Today" show.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They told us it was traumatic, but I really don`t think any of us had that traumatic of a life before.
PINSKY: For Thera Sanchez, the diagnosis is equally unsatisfying.
SANCHEZ: I don`t think this is in my head.
PINSKY: Their parents agree. It just feels like there is something more at work here. As the investigation moves forward, the pain persists and doctors can only do so much.
PINSKY (on-camera): Harvard medical school psychiatrist, Dr. John Sharp, is back with me. And now, I`m joined by Jim Dupont. He joins me by phone. His daughter has been suffering with these Tourette-like mystery symptoms for quite some time. Jim, you were on with us yesterday, thank you for that.
Can you give us your reaction to the news of the past few days? Do I have Jim, anybody? I bet the control room is freaking out about that. That gives you and I a chance to talk about medical issues. You know, I noticed during that piece, my voiceover, I said something about this being psychologically motivated.
That`s kind of a misnomer, isn`t it? We`re right at the crossroads of the brain, mind sort of crossroads, you know, where it`s a brain issue. It has an emotional concomitant, meaning it`s an expression of an emotional experience through the brain.
DR. JOHN SHARP, PSYCHIATRIST, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: Yes. Another term for that is psychophysiologic.
SHARP: And people say that we`re all just wired to link emotions and physical response. Like I was telling (ph) the other day, you`re nervous. You get butterflies in your stomach.
SHARP: Where in this case, you`re occasion to feel oppress by forces you can`t escape and unconsciously lapse into some kind of a physical escape.
PINSKY: Well, let me talk about my experience with conversion. I have treated a lot over the years, again, because I was medical director in a psychiatric hospital. Psychiatric patients were coming in. They often had physical symptoms, and the psychiatrist would come to me and go medical or not, all the time.
And, I think I mentioned this earlier in the show is that we, as clinicians, you learn to sort of smell things when you walk in the room. And for me, I had a very certain kind of emotional feeling when I walked around conversion, and I`m just not getting that feeling from some of these girls, and that`s what I`m concerned about.
Now, we`ve got this whole toxic story here. I`m worried that that`s predisposing or causing or precipitating or contributing to this in some way, and that`s why we`re going to keep covering. Dr. Sharp, I`ve got Jim Dupont back on the line. So, Jim, what is your reaction to what`s going on the last few days?
VOICE OF JIM DUPONT, DAUGHTER SUFFERS FROM MEDICAL ILLNESS: Well, I am disappointed that the school would not allow Erin Brockovich`s lead environmentalist to start taking a few tests. I think that that was a big mistake, because it certainly made us lose faith in the school. You know, she said that she, you know, wanted the best interest of the kids, and what would it hurt to take a couple of soil samples.
So, she didn`t need to make such a big deal about that. I mean, obviously, she should have been more cooperative. And other than that, in the past few days, you know, right now, other than that, we`re waiting for the environmental team to show back up in a couple of weeks with the proper, you know, legal paperwork so that they can hopefully do a very stringent environmental test for us.
PINSKY: How`s your daughter doing now? Is she getting better? Is she OK?
DUPONT: In my case, she always was -- she started with a very heavy onset of similar symptoms that you`ve seen in other girls, and through the shots of muscle relaxers and increasing her dosages of her antidepressants, it, you know, makes it so that it`s tolerable. So, she definitely has milder symptoms than a lot of the other girls.
PINSKY: Now, Jim, you have said that you think this could be a combination of environment such as these toxic influences, and perhaps, even something like the PANDAS syndrome, which is infectious.
DUPONT: You know, one way or another, I do think that we have a combination of problems here. From all the experts and doctors that I talked to that have been good enough to come forward and offer advice, I mean, I learned more about this than I ever thought I wanted to know.
And one thing that they make me clear on is that you can`t diagnose conversion disorder, unless, you have ruled out environmental and infectious disease. And they certainly have not because there are so many more stringent tests that need to be done medically as well as environmentally.
And as you said earlier, yes, if the girls are exposed to something toxic, and that could have been the predisposed part which leaves a window of opportunity for a PANDAS situation or there`s other diseases like that like (INAUDIBLE) where you basically the anti-bodies cause an autoimmune attack on the ganglia, and that`s the way it was described to me.
PINSKY: No, that`s right. That`s exactly what happens. That`s exactly what happens. And unfortunately, the biology of tic is not that well worked out. So, we have nowhere to look, you know, with great specificity in the brain. And then, there could be an overlay in some of the girls, it could be yet another layer, which is the conversion could actually be here in some of them.
DUPONT: Well, you know, I thought about that. And you know, you may have some kids that are definitely sick and have some infectious disease from a predisposed condition, and then, you may even have, you know, as you say some of them may have conversion disorder, but the only issue I have with that is that you outline through definition last night on the air that the symptoms don`t really match up.
So, I`m a little confused about that. And I think that we need to look further and get these very stringent environmental and medical tests back and go from there, so that we can, at least, find things or not find them to rule them out.
PINSKY: And I agree with you, Jim. My position is, you know, again, I haven`t taken care of a lot of conversion over the years. You just kind of keep looking just in case, I mean, why not. And we came upon this toxic spill, and my goodness, what a coincidence. You got to wonder if it has something to do with this.
Another question, Jim, is, do these girls -- do you know if anything that they have in common, the girls, that would sort of connect them socially or where they would know about each other`s tics or anything like that?
DUPONT: You know, I have organized a parental group which has more than two-thirds of all the families. And, we went down that road, and the ages, you know, range from 13 all the way up to 18. So, a lot of these girls do not have the same habits. They don`t even -- they don`t necessarily even know each other.
And we have not been able to really label a common denominator as far as their whereabouts or anything like that other than the school, itself.
PINSKY: Now, Dr. Meckler who treated some of the affected kids are diagnosing -- come up with the diagnosis conversion. You`ve seen him on some of -- he actually was on this show, too. He released a statement.
It states, quote, "We at the DENT Neurological Institute understand the concern and fear the patients and their families are having in regards to the diagnosis that has been established. We also appreciate the input of any credible expert as long as it is in the best interest of our patients. Their health and well-being has always been our primary goal." Jim, do you have any response to that?
DUPONT: Well, you know, as he`s checking up this the conversion disorder diagnosis, I`m only going to speak about my own situation, because I talked to DENT Neurological, his associate, Dr. (INAUDIBLE) on the phone, and basically voiced my concern about the stringency of the tests that were done. And, I said, you know, what about PANDAS.
Well, she told me, she says, well, we checked the stress levels, and PANDAS only occurs in younger children. If I hadn`t had so many doctors and other experts call me and advise me that they really need to take the P out of PANDAS, because it does happen in people that are up to 18 years old, and sometimes, beyond, and the fact that those tests are much more stringent than that.
As a matter of fact, strep may actually not even be a factor. It could be gone as the antibodies have taken over and caused the issue. So, basically, what I was told is those tests have to be done with negative DNA, strep antibodies, estrogen levels in girls, and some certain titers they look for.
And also, the person has to be an expert to be able to decipher the results of those tests. So, to be honest with you, I think that while they mean well, they just don`t know. This is not their expertise. That`s my personal opinion from the conversations I`ve had.
PINSKY: Well, Jim, I appreciate you talking to us. And again, our well wishes go out to your daughter. I`m glad she`s doing better. And by the way, I have read an extensive literature out there on other post- infectious causes of these strange movements and tics. There`s a lot of literature. It is very confusing, but I`m glad to see you`re arming yourself with information.
You certainly seem up on the topic, and we will continue to kind of pursue this and ask questions, and mostly, see if we can`t come up with some answers on the environmental influences, because that`s something that`s a little more discrete quality to it that might protect other people from problems down the line.
Now, the question in the next segment, we`re going to talk about the EPA and whether or not they so-called dropped the ball. And by the way, Jim, thank you so much for joining us. Didn`t get a chance to thank you. Did they drop the ball in the decades following the toxic chemical spill in Le Roy? We`re going to talk about some startling allegations when we get back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: The EPA might have just dropped the ball. That was the surprising allegation made last night during last night`s live show. Bob Bowcock is the man who made that statement. He`s an associate of famed environmental activist, Erin Brockovich. He was in Le Roy over the weekend to conduct testing.
And we`ve heard, he was sort of stone walled by the school. Also back with us is HLN correspondent, Jim Spellman. All right. We`re going to talk about EPA in just a second. But first, I want you to take a look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another truck came in, Paragon Environmental Construction. They came in, so I came back here to take some pictures, and they inspected the barrels, lifted some of the lids, went in the back to the other barrels back there that you can`t see, kicked a few of them, and then, another car came in, and then, they started unloading coolers.
I believe they unloaded over 15 coolers. They put them inside the construction trailer, and then they packed up and left. The toxins are just leaking out of the barrels. They`re just open and nobody cares. This is it. This is why my daughter is sick. I know it is. What scares me is there`s no cure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: OK. The voice you heard there was the father of an affected teenager, one of the girls that is sick. He is a concerned parent, and he`s reporting on what happened at the toxic dump site today. Bob, you seem very interested in those pictures.
BOWCOCK: Yes. It the first time I`ve seen them, and I think it just sort of plays on what I had talked about last night that, apparently, you know, somebody at EPA dropped the ball or EPA at the institution dropped the ball in not physically, you know, supervising the site.
PINSKY: Not getting rid all those barrels --
PINSKY: Fifty years later, whatever -- years later.
BOWCOCK: I would anticipate that those barrels are probably their six years.
BOWCOCK: Six years. Yes.
PINSKY: So, that`s when they started doing the work --
BOWCOCK: That`s when they actually started doing the work to fill the barrels.
PINSKY: I see.
BOWCOCK: However, the condition we found them in when we went out on Saturday is they`ve --
BOWCOCK: They`ve decayed. That completely --
PINSKY: So, they started spilling it all back into the soil.
PINSKY: So, it looks like the EPA is getting concerned about this. They`re getting on it.
BOWCOCK: Yes, which is why I was so interested in the footage.
PINSKY: -- unusual reaction of the EPA to rundown there and collect the barrels?
BOWCOCK: First of all, I wouldn`t expect them to have to react like that in the first place, but the fact that they showed up today with such urgency with an independent contractor indicates to me that they`re kind of cleaning up their mess in a hurry.
PINSKY: Great. Jim Spellman, did you see any of this? Were you out there when some of this went down?
JIM SPELLMAN, HLN CORRESPONDENT: We did, yes. There`s been people out there most of the day to keep journalists, frankly, from getting too close, as close as Bob was able to get over the weekend. And we saw those people there, but we had to watch from a distance. Another person we ran into out there is very interesting, somebody from the Le Roy Highway Department.
They told us that four years ago, in 2008, that they came across that site and found leaky barrels, and they went to a county politician, county lawmaker here, to try to get some action on getting those cleaned up. They said, at the time, somebody came out.
They erected the trailer that`s there now, put a fence around it, and as far as they could tell, that`s all that happened in the four years since they brought this to the attention of lawmakers. There was a lot of activity out there today. I think more than there has been for many years.
PINSKY: All right. congratulations. We`ve had some action. To Bob, thank you for alerting us to all of this. Something good has happened out of this, so far. I hope there`s more to come.
Now, I need to read you part of a statement we received yesterday from a spokesperson at the EPA. Here it is, quote, "The EPA is aware of the parents and communities concerns and we are working closely with the school district and all of the involved state agencies to give them information related to the super fund site about four miles from the school. As we gather all the facts, we will keep the community, our state partners and the school district up to date."
Now, today, we received a follow-up statement that reads, quote, "At this point, we are still gathering some information and don`t have anything to add to what we said yesterday," meaning, the statement I just read you. "The one new item is that we are sampling drums as a first step to moving them off the site. Once we have that data, we will share it."
Bob, I have just 30 seconds. It seems like they sampled and moved. They must have found something in those drums.
BOWCOCK: Oh, absolutely.
PINSKY: Yes. Is this too little, too late?
BOWCOCK: Absolutely. Those drums should have been off that property within 30 days of being filled with material. I mean, that`s just standard practice.
PINSKY: So, -- OK. So, the next thing that they should be doing, the EPA, is sampling the soil and the water and that sort of thing. Is that right?
BOWCOCK: You know, having found it in the condition that we found it in, having looked at the fact that EPA has been absent from this process for at least four years that we know of, I think it`s -- you know, go back to go. I think it`s time to start over and test. Test, get some independent folks in there, and get this done.
PINSKY: All right. I got to take a break. Now, would you know the steps to take if there were a toxic spill in your community? We`re going to answer that, and hopefully, that will be a life saving bit of information when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOWCOCK: We didn`t come out here with any agenda that we were going to identify anything or point fingers at anybody. We`re just ruling things out. We`re starting at the most commonplace in the setting which is the school field. It`s pretty pathetic and unfortunate that we come out to help people, and the public officials are blocking us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: That, of course, is environmental investigator, Bob Bowcock, talking to a reporter this week from the toxic spill derailment site in Le Roy, New York. Now, Bob, about that site, during the commercial, you told me something about it I wanted to share with the audience. Go ahead. You were about to say it in the last segment.
BOWCOCK: Yes, Dr. Drew. This is not just, you know, one of many super fund sites that EPA has in region 2 or in the United States. This is the largest single TCE spill in the system, and it`s the most complex because of the geology and the setting.
PINSKY: So, this is the biggest toxic spill that the EPA has.
BOWCOCK: Biggest TCE --
PINSKY: TCE toxic spill.
BOWCOCK: TCE toxic spill.
PINSKY: And yet, it somehow, from the bureaucratic point of view, somehow got pushed back, somehow didn`t get the attention it deserved.
BOWCOCK: Exactly. And that`s even more frustrating.
PINSKY: Kind of bad (ph). All right. Let`s talk about what people need to do, a guidance from people out there if there`s a toxic spill in someone`s community out there. What should they do? What are the steps they need to take? Only a (INAUDIBLE) to do it, but tell us what you think.
BOWCOCK: You know, it`s one of those types of things where it`s incumbent upon all of us as citizens to make sure our local officials are on top of it and made aware that your city council people at the really basic level, that they`re up to speed, and that they get the state officials involved.
PINSKY: Well, how do you know -- I mean, this people living in Le Roy didn`t know -- may not have known there is this huge thing in their backyard. How do you even check to see if something`s happened around you?
BOWCOCK: You can go on the internet and look and see all of the super fund sites listed in the United States.
PINSKY: What site?
BOWCOCK: Go to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. It`s www.epa.gov.
PINSKY: OK. There`s a picture of the distance from the derailment site where the spill was to the school.
BOWCOCK: And it will list basic information. I mean, I did that on this site, and perhaps, the most frustrating part about that was, there was no information on this site --
PINSKY: The biggest plume of TCE in the United States?
PINSKY: Biggest plume of TCE in the United States. That`s hard to get my head around. OK. And then, finally, if you do find something within a few miles of you, could you convert to drinking bottled water at that point? I mean, do you --
BOWCOCK: No, no, no. In a lot of settings, it depends on where your water comes from. In a lot of communities, the municipal drinking water supply is not impacted. So, your drinking water supply is OK.
PINSKY: And that`s very carefully tested, I`m sure.
BOWCOCK: Absolutely very carefully tested, and there is stringent regulation on it. So, it`s not where I would look for immediate concern. But what I would do is look at if you`re on a private well, every citizen in this country needs to look and see what`s in their watershed. You can go surf yourwatershed.com. You can go knowyourwatershed.com.
PINSKY: And the water sheds are tested, and then, it`s put up there on the web.
BOWCOCK: Correct. And what it will tell you on these sites is that it`ll tell you places to look for the contaminants of concern in your watershed. There are naturally occurring contaminants that we`ll find in our --
PINSKY: I have like 20 seconds left. Are there specific ones that we should watch out for? If particular contaminants show up in your watershed, should you be very concerned? TCE.
BOWCOCK: It`s a large list. TCE, chromium-6, the hexavalent chromium --
PINSKY: Vinyl chloride.
BOWCOCK: Vinyl chloride. Vinyl chloride is a breakdown chemical of a lot of the things. The tetrachloroethylene that you spoke up earlier.
PINSKY: OK. I got to go. Thank you, Bob. I`m going to have you back, obviously, and when Erin comes back from Europe. She`s in Europe right now --
BOWCOCK: Correct. Correct
PINSKY: We`ll talk to her, too. We will check in with the parents, and obviously, Jim Spellman on the ground there in Le Roy. Again, our hearts go out to these families. And, thank you for letting us try to help what`s going on there. See you next time.