(NEW YORK) — Months of mounting frustration surrounding a mysterious illness apparently causing facial tics and verbal outbursts that started among teenagers in Le Roy, N.Y., has come to a head as reports of the illness expand and the high school where it began comes under fire.
Nearly two dozen people in the upstate New York community are now experiencing uncontrollable tics, seizures and outbursts they say may have been caused by a chemical spill in the town more than 40 years ago.
The original affected teenagers — 14 girls and one boy — all attended Le Roy Junior-Senior High School when they started showing symptoms last fall. Most of the teens have been diagnosed with conversion disorder, a psychological condition induced by stress that is sometimes called “mass hysteria” when occurring in clusters, such as in Le Roy. One of the victims is a 36-year-old.
The parents of the afflicted teenagers contest that diagnosis and dismiss suggestions that social media may be to blame.
“No, there is too much going on in Le Roy,” Charlene Leubner said Tuesday on ABC’s Good Morning America.
Leubner’s 16-year-old daughter, Traci, is one of the teenagers who first began experiencing symptoms late last year.
“Mine started in early December and I started with a really bad stutter to where I couldn’t talk and I got sent home,” Traci Leubner said of her symptoms, which she says are provoked by stress and sadness. “It eventually developed into a head twitch and then it went away for a little while.”
Leubner and other parents are demanding that the school allow environmental activist Erin Brockovich to investigate potential environmental causes behind the disease.
Brockovich, who famously linked a cluster of cancer cases in California to contaminated drinking water, prompting an Oscar-winning movie starring Julia Roberts, launched her own investigation last month. She says a derailed train that spilled cyanide and trichloroethene within about three miles of Le Roy High School in 1970 may be behind the Tourette-like symptoms.
“They have not ruled everything out yet,” Brockovich told USA Today. “When I read reports like this that the New York Department of Health and state agencies were well aware of the spill and you don’t do water testing or vapor extraction tests, you don’t have an all-clear.”
Bob Bowcock, an investigator for Brockovich’s team, was asked by officials to leave the Le Roy High School property during a visit there Jan. 28 to collect soil, air and water samples from the school grounds.
On Monday, he posted an open letter to the school asking for their assistance, according to The Daily News. The school has said it will post a response on the school district’s website.
“We really want the school to do some outside testing and let Erin Brockovich’s crew in because there has been great resistance as far as having them come in,” Lana Clark, whose 16-year-old daughter, Lauren Scalzo, is another of the 15 students originally afflicted, said on GMA.
“They were too quick to reach a diagnosis and they did minimal testing,” she said of the school’s reaction to the outbreak.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio