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Tics and Toxins: Leroy Put Student Playing Fields on FEMA Flood Hazard Land

LeroyBy Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill

LEROY, N.Y., February 2 – School officials who say environmental factors can’t be responsible for the outbreak of tics at the Junior/Senior High School might want to check last year’s record rainfalls – and the flood-prone ground right under their feet.

The tics broke out after an unusual pattern of heavy rain, followed by a mild winter that has kept the ground from freezing and left lots of standing water at Leroy Junior/Senior High School.

That should be no surprise. Part of the school grounds -- including athletic fields -- are right on top of a federally designated FEMA Flood Hazard Area. While a county official told us that the school itself sits on a slope just above the hazard area, the zone cuts right across the girls’ softball diamond, as well as the football/track field and another, larger baseball field.

Leroy feb red

The land in the flood hazard area generally correlates with other mapping that shows less optimal and more flood prone Canandaigua soil covering the site.

In fact, we’ve been told by local residents that some fields, including the girls’ softball field just built in 2009, had to be dug up and rebuilt within the last year because the ground was so wet. The building itself has not escaped water and structural woes – the gym could not be used when the school was first opened a few years back because the floor buckled and sank, and the opening of school was delayed one year for a week by flooding, according to a former student.

School officials won’t comment, but Superintendent Kim M. Cox issued a new statement Wednesday, mostly blasting national press attention and the involvement of famed advocate Erin Brockovich, who has cited a train derailment of hazardous material a few miles from town in 1970 as a likely cause. Cox said new tests have shown drinking water inside the school – which comes from neighboring Monroe County – is safe.

Citing state and federal experts, she said: “All of these agencies and professionals from these agencies have assured us that our school is safe. There is no evidence of an environmental or infectious cause. Environmental causes would not discriminate. We would see a wide range of people affected.”

But no one seems to be looking up at the sky or down at the ground. LeRoy, like other New York state and Northeastern U.S. locations, has seen an epic amount of rain during the past 12 months. We put this chart together to show 2011 rainfall versus normal amounts in Buffalo and Rochester. LeRoy is located between them.

Leroy Feb Record Buffalo and Rochester precipitation levels

Why might water create an environmental hazard that ought to be considered before victims of a new illness are diagnosed – as these students have been -- with mass “conversion disorder,” meaning a psychogenic reaction based on stress or trauma? Because flooding and standing water can spread or retain contaminants such as pesticides or runoff from nearby farms, or become a breeding ground for microbes or molds that thrive on moisture.

Wednesday, in response to our request under the Freedom of Information Act, the school provided its record of pesticide use in 2011. It showed Ortho Home Defense Max and Ace Wasp and Hornet Killer had been sprayed in several areas.

Leroy Feb pesticide report

Beyond checking the pesticide logs, the first round of tests that led officials to assert “the school is safe” were only done indoors. A visual inspection of the school we conducted on Wednesday showed standing water in several areas.

Leroy Feb Standing water Leroy HS 2

Leroy Feb Standing water Leroy HS 3

At least one of those areas appears to be a detention basin where water is designed to accumulate. New York state law requires such basins on all construction projects of an acre or more. But there was ponding water all over the place, including a ditch with cattails.

The issue of water on the school grounds has come up several times since the tics outbreak was first reported, raised by local residents familiar with the school’s history. They’ve described the area as “a swamp.” The Batavian, a local online newspaper, attempted Wednesday to knock down that idea with a photograph of the site under construction that showed a smooth, dry foundation.

“Rumor: The school was built on a swamp. Apparently false. Aerial maps going back to 1938 show the area of the school is flat and dry.”

That, of course, would only show the above ground condition of the land at the time the photograph was taken. In fact, a 1954 photo shows extensive tiling just next to the current girls’ baseball field. Tiling – generally clay pipe located just beneath the surface -- is used to drain farmland and allow crops to grow during the rainy spring planting season. A county official we spoke with said it’s an open question whether clay pipes that old would still be in place or functioning. The tiling is visible as light straight lines – including three that are horizontal and closely spaced -- in this photo:

Leroy Feb 1954

The school’s location raises question for another reason. We’re told that village lawyer Robert Fussell, who owns several hundred acres of land inside the village limits, offered to donate land for the new school when a site was being considered in 2000. He stood up at a school board meeting and made the offer, stipulating only that he wanted to help create “an attractive building.” Fussell, a longtime environmentalist, was opposed to a school being built outside the village; he wanted to let kids walk to school and also to avoid urban sprawl, believing farmland should be preserved in the Town of Leroy outside the village. This is a map of Fussell’s holdings in the village, all the area within green lines.

Leroy Feb Bob Fussell map

School board officials never took Fussell up on his offer or even initiated a  conversation about it with him. Instead, he later learned second-hand that the school board bought land -- outside the village limits -- from the mother and brother of the then-school board president. According to county records, the district paid $108,000 for that land on October 20, 2000.

The new Junior/Senior High School replaced one on Main Street in downtown LeRoy, a large and handsome building that now houses the school district offices and other non-school related operations. It is hard by, but well above, the Oatka Creek into which runoff from the new school site would eventually drain.

Leroy Feb old Leroy HS building

According to several locals we spoke with, the new school resulted from a push by New York State to build schools in small localities – according to one account, the state paid 90 percent and the local districts only the remaining 10. That proved irresistible to many districts including LeRoy. One man we spoke to said there was no compelling need for a new middle and high school complex – a new high school would have been justified, at most. The new Junior/Senior Middle School houses seventh through twelfth grade.

But now, with a bad economy and the recent bankruptcy of Kodak – LeRoy has long been a pleasant bedroom community for Rochester – school enrollment is declining and officials are left with managing dwindling tax revenues.

Housing prices have been hit as well. With the rain, the Kodak bankruptcy, the strange winter, and now the outbreak of illness at the high school, this has not been a good season for LeRoy.


Dan Olmsted is Editor and Mark Blaxill Editor-at-Large of Age of Autism.com. They are co-authors of “The Age of Autism – Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-Made Epidemic,” published in paperback last September by Thomas Dunne Books.



Everyone involved should consider radiation as a factor, despite the coverup and media blackout. The U.S. got radiation from Fukushima, including on the East Coast. Actually, one measurement long ago last year showed the water on the East Coast as having the *most* radiation in it. This is definitely radioactive water lying around the school.

Radiation could possibly cause these syndromes after accumulating in the body (even while authorities deny there are any health effects from Fukushima). Add to that the possibility of some other compounding environmental factor that, under normal circumstances, wouldn't cause these extreme symptoms. But with radiation, the body is weakened and more vulnerable, and the toxic load increased. So maybe it was the materials dumped, as Erin said, or even toxic mold growing in the school from being bombarded by so much moisture, plus radiation to make the body much much more vulnerable. That would explain why so many are getting the same symptoms, especially if they are eating the same foods in town. If it's only affecting females, that is puzzling to me. Maybe something to do with genetic expression of susceptibility to those particular toxins?

People have to start taking into account radiation in the environment and the food, or we keep having more and more mystery illnesses cropping up. A body can only take so much radiation before weird things start happening. A lot of the new mystery illnesses may have causes that were already there, but that the radiation made more dangerous. The authorities will waste time and money if they don't also consider radiation and radionuclides consumed via food, water and other drinks.

Test the school for toxic mold.


A 1999 report indicated "concentrations in groundwater samples change dramatically as the water table rises and falls seasonally." (...) "This observation led investigators to conclude there is likely to be a large mass of TCE residing in the vadose zone of the bedrock and that this portion of the source area contamination comes into contact with ground water only as the water table rises."



At last check NYS has not issued fracking permits to start drilling for natural gas. I'm not sure what your looking at, but they're not fracking wells.


Doffing hat and applauding! And that $108,000 low-lying, flood-prone farmland -- what were the neighborhood comps at the time of the sale, and was there any history of mitigations, cleanups, or well contaminations? This would have been back before the switch to city water -- they were still using the local reservoir at the time, which had ag contamination issues...


They did convince her taximom...in the last interview she did she said she had to trust her doctor and his diagnosis. Because if it's not a conversion disorder and it is environmental she may never get better.


NBC News just reported a 36-year-old nurse-practitioner is being treated for the same symptoms. Will the doctors try to convince her that she has "conversion disorder?


Has anyone considered the five fracking wells (drilling for natural gas) that ring the school? Fracking brings up all sorts of heavy metals from the earth, not to mention the toxic gasses that are spewed from compressor stations.


Well at least PANDAS/PANS should be ruled out. It could well be something to do with the environment of the school ground. In any case it seems that the cause could be environmental and it sure shows how people are treated when it touches on something that isn't genetic or psychological. I hear you about the distrust! I know we all hope they just get better and get some real help!


I know of Dr. Swedo and her work with PANDAS. My own son was diagnosed and treated becuse of her groundbreaking research and recommendations. But, what if it isn't PANDAS and she isn't involved?

I am so distrustful of our government agencies doing right by everyday Americans.

I do hope they figure out what has happened to those girls and get them treatment and their lives back!


Sorry, that should be Dr. Trifiletti.


Andrea, apparently Dr. Swedo is veer prominent if not a leader in the field of PANDAS/PANS at BEthesda NIH. I know why you felt worried- I had the same concerns but Vicki said a few posts ago that she is amazing. I just hope the poor girls give someone who has experience with this area a second chance, whether it's Swedo or Tilipetti?


The NIH is offering free evaluations of the affected girls. For some reason that doesn't make me feel any better.


People can say whatever they want but let's see the soil test results. It has to be backed up by tests.

Have they tested the soilds on the fields for pestcide related chemicals? Has the girls urine been tested for pesticide related chemcials?

Too much talk and not enough action IMO


Vicki, thank you for that News. Thank God. In my searches I just had time to check out the man doctor from there (Dr. ) and didn't look further. I still wonder what happened with Dr. Trifiletti's involvement. No updates on that yet.


Surely they are looking for something environmental with this situation. I would hope they are not going to try to play the "gene card" on this one.

I would guess the first 10 girls are just the beginning of a wave if the toxic facilities are not located.

Some interesting films were shown here in Iowa, including the Greater Good.


3 Wise Monkeys

You can guarantee that with the government that if they do not want to find anything they somehow just won't find it.

Vicki Hill

Jen, Dr. Swedo is the most prominent researcher in history on the subject of PANDAS. Not sure if she invented the term, but it certainly came into standard use due to Dr. Swedo. No one better, in my opinion, to investigate the PANDAS question in this case.

Jeannette Bishop

"Environmental causes would not discriminate. We would see a wide range of people affected."

I worry they may begin to see a wider range of adverse outcomes, especially if exposure to a responsible factor (maybe there is more than one) is still ongoing.

Eve Garden

Ha Ha! Typical - the reporter is on site - and Abe Cain focuses on the name of the town, not the problem. Gee, where have we seen that nit picky forest for the trees approach before?

Teresa Conrick

Real science and real investigative journalism! Thank you Mark and Dan as the teens and all of these families need true answers.

Toxins and microbes - not a good mix.

LeRoy school officials are all wet

"the school board bought land -- outside the village limits -- from the mother and brother of the then-school board president."


"Environmental causes would not discriminate. We would see a wide range of people affected.”

The girls' baseball diamond obviously discriminates against boys; therefore environmental causes can discriminate. (The susceptibility of certain groups to illness and disease is also well known - 4 times more boys than girls are autistic.)

Abe Cain

The old High School is in the village of LeRoy, not Batavia as reported in the article. Investigative reporting? Sloppy reporting and conspiracy theories fit for an Oliver Stone movie.


New developments: a local reporter has been denied an interview with Mechtler as to how he has ruled out PANDAS/PANS because the reporter revealed that he had taken pharma monies (150,00). His neurology clinic's marketing director, Casera, said that Dr. Mechtler's affiliation with these pharma companies has no relation to Gardasil or cervix. Oh really! Maybe there are other vaccines that have played a part in these kids' problems as well as the obvious environmental concerns and hey, being a paid spokesman kinda means you wouldn't want to speak out or take any action that would incriminate any of their products! Now the NIH wants to evaluate them all free of cost at the NIH Institute on Neurology in Bethesda with Dr.s Mark Hallett and Susan Swedo? Are they experts in PANDAS/PANS? What happened to Dr. trifiletti's testing? I'd love to comment on these things at The Batavian but it's hard/ impossible to register to comment. Those poor girls are getting the total runaround by Superintendent Cox. She keeps ruing for "calm" meanwhile seems to block all efforts to help them or be transparent. Cox: there is a reason people have righteous anger or upset and this is one of those times!

Sandy MacInnis

Thank you.

This is real investigative journalism - something that seems to have been forgotten by most journalists.


Does the president of the board have children or grandchildren that go to the school or will go to the school?
How pitiful! They had the money to build, and build they did - now money is scarce and what are they going to do.
One room school house on a dry light might be their only option.

John Stone

Dear Dan & Mark,

Great reporting. What stands out is the spirit of denialism. Who know's what happened to these girls, but one thing is certain that corners have been cut both in regard to the safety of the site, and with the investigation. Now, interested parties want to string it out forever and for once the public won't take it.



Thank you for your dogged persistence to make sure this story is not swept under the rug.

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