For Want of a Nail: School Abuse and the Debate Over Cameras to Protect the Disabled
Autism Speaks Sued for Discriminatory Treatment Based on Disability

Tics and Toxins: New Evidence Raises Pesticide Concerns in New York State Outbreak

By Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill


One Thursday last September, a crop-dusting plane swooped down over a cornfield in Western New York and dipped below the tree line, spraying an insecticide engineered to paralyze the nervous system of agricultural pests called earworms. After several passes, the plane climbed, banked sharply, and flew away.

The event, captured on this video by a local resident, is noteworthy for when and where it happened: on a school day, on a field adjoining LeRoy Junior-Senior High School in Western New York, where an outbreak of tic disorders among 18 students, mostly girls, would soon gain national attention. By then two girls had developed symptoms, according to the state Health Department – one in May 2011, the other earlier in September – but the bulk of the cases would follow, including two more the next week.

“This cornfield is adjacent to the school property and uphill from the school,” the neighbor who took the video wrote in an e-mail. “The fields in our area are dusted at least twice a year.”

The “dust” that settled that day is called Tundra. Its active ingredient, bifenthrin, has been linked at high doses in animal studies to some of the same symptoms experienced by the LeRoy students. U.S. regulators regard it as much safer than earlier generations of pesticides such as DDT, but it was banned in Europe until just last week due to environmental concerns.

Most of the LeRoy girls were diagnosed by a local neurology clinic with a psychiatric illness called conversion disorder, a finding the state Health Department endorsed despite the protests of parents who said their daughters were not emotionally disturbed. Several investigations, including one made public last month, found no evidence of environmental contamination.

In May 2011, a ban on all pesticide use on school grounds went into effect in New York State. But the investigators did not appear to consider the possibility of pesticide drift or runoff from neighboring property in the intensively farmed region, or test for currently used pesticides like bifenthrin – only ones banned decades ago. There is no evidence that the crop-dusting on September 22, or any other date, was part of any investigation. (Our inquiries to the school district and the environmental consulting firm have not yet been answered.)

The video, shot by Leroy Township resident Don Dessert from his nearby home, was sent in March to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. We obtained it last week through a Freedom of Information Law request, along with supporting documents. In an e-mail accompanying the video, Dessert wrote that it showed “a crop duster spraying the cornfield on the other side of the tree stand from my house.”

Dessert attached a fact sheet on agricultural practices for corn to illustrate “what part of the chemistry set is put on corn crops. Makes me want to find some organic corn …” He included a photo diagram showing his location in relation to the field and the school (click to enlarge photo):

Leroy 106A

Just below the cornfield in this photo looking south is a retention basin and the girls’ softball field. In some aerial photographs, including the one on the school’s Web site, the basin is full of water.  The period between April and September of last year was the rainiest ever in Rochester and Buffalo, the two big cities to the east and west of Leroy.

As we wrote in February, “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.

“Parts of the school grounds -- including athletic fields -- are right on top of a federally designated FEMA Flood Hazard Area. … The zone cuts right across the girls’ softball diamond.” (In this photo, north is toward the top of the frame, and the field that was sprayed September 22 is visible at the bottom.)

Leroy feb red

Officials told us then that the school’s pesticide log was examined as part of the initial investigation but, because no pesticides were applied on school grounds during the preceding year, pesticides were ruled out as a factor. (Pesticide use was banned on all public school grounds in the state as of May 18, 2011.)

The Department of Environmental Conservation’s internal notes obtained through the FOIA request show it ruled out the crop-dusting as a cause of the outbreak.

 “Staff assisted with a response to a citizen report of corn cropdusting in Leroy (T), Genesee County, where several students at the local high school had experienced symptoms of an unexplained disorder,” according to a June entry in its incident log. “Investigation determined that an aerial application to a corn crop had occurred at the location alleged in the citizen report.  And while a Region 3 inspection of the applicator’s business records did turn up an unrelated paperwork violation, nothing about the Leroy corn application was in violation.  Likewise, there had been at the time of the application no complaints from the school or anyone else that they had noticed or been affected by it. The information obtained by the Department was provided to the citizen who initially made the report.”

The cornfield is owned by Donald Pangrazio and managed by Harris Farms, according to the DEC, and the pilot was Theodore Kutschera of Callicoon, N.Y. He was cited in a letter by DEC for failing to maintain a required certification. The department said it would not take enforcement action, but warned “further violations will be prosecuted.”

It is unknown whether the school district, the state Health Department, or the outside consulting firm, Leader Professional Services, was aware of the incident or the report. Last month, Leader completed an extensive, $70,000 report that found no current environmental hazards.

"The air, soil and surface water sampling conducted at the [Junior High/Senior High] site did not identify chemicals at concentrations which could be considered to have health impacts to students, teachers, administrative staff or the public occupying the site," the Leader report said

Based on that, LeRoy Superintendent Kim Cox wrote district families in June: “I have excellent news to announce concerning the results of the air, soil and surface water testing of the Junior/Senior High School building and grounds by Leader Professional Services. Leader has compiled an extensive report concerning the testing undertaken and subsequent analysis, concluding there are no adverse health impacts from contaminants in the air, soil or water in or around our high school campus.”

Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, vice president at Dent Neurologic Institute and the neurologist who diagnosed many of the girls with conversion disorder, went further, saying the results confirmed his diagnosis and treatment. (Only one student still has symptoms, he told The Buffalo News in June.) Mechtler said Erin Brockovich, the activist who raised the possibility of toxic effects from a train derailment in the township or other causes, should “now go on national TV and take back her dramatic speculation about environmental toxins being the root cause of the disorders,” according to the newspaper.

Brockovich was brought in by some of the parents who scoffed at the conversion disorder diagnosis, which has its origins in the late 19th century Freudian concept of “hysteria,” in which patients, most often young women, supposedly convert mental trauma into physical symptoms. When that happens to several members of a group at once, it is called mass hysteria, or in modern parlance, a mass psychogenic event. (Based on research for our 2010 book, “The Age of Autism,” we believe the illness doesn’t really exist. See “The Crazy History of Conversion Disorder.”)

Conversion disorder is often described as a diagnosis of exclusion, in which physical causes are methodically ruled out first. Strikingly, Tundra, the pesticide sprayed on the field, has been shown to cause symptoms in animals that parallel those suffered by the girls, who in addition to tics had trouble walking and standing and suffered breathing problems, strange sensations, seizures and blackouts.

Bifenthrin, the active chemical in the pesticide, was banned in Europe until last week because of safety concerns.

When fed to rats at high doses, symptoms included “tremors, clonic [rapid muscle contraction/relaxation] convulsions, twitching, incoordination, staggered gait, splayed hind limbs, atypical posture,” according to a Technical Fact Sheet from the National Pesticide Information Center.

Bifenthrin and other high-tech pesticides have been cited as possible culprits in the collapse of bee colonies around the country. In a well-known study, a California researcher found that flea-killing pet shampoos containing pyrethrins – the class of chemicals to which bifenthrin belongs – might be linked to a risk of autism when handled by pregnant mothers.

None of that means the crop-dusting on September 22 caused any of the tic disorders, and federal regulators and the chemicals’ manufacturer say it is much safer than earlier generations of pesticides such as DDT. But the incident points to a very active pesticide-application program at the same time and place as the tic outbreak, and raises questions about why current pesticides—which are designed to disrupt the chemical and neurological functions of living things -- were not considered.

The LeRoy schools’ own report in January seemed to acknowledge the possibility of contamination from adjacent property. It noted that New York State has adopted a Neighbor Notification under which counties can require pesticide users to inform neighboring landowners in advance.

“To date, Genesee County has not adopted a local law to comply with the Neighbor Notification Law,” the school’s report says. “Accordingly, school neighbors are not required to notify the school of any pesticides being used.”

Leader Professional Services tested for DDT, which was banned in the United States in 1972. Small amounts of DDT and its breakdown product, DDE, were detected on two soccer fields at the school, Leader reported, as was another banned pesticide.

“Pesticides were found in the samples taken,” Leader reported, “but such pesticides are no longer in use in the United States as such use has been prohibited. … The levels of same were significantly below the residential use criteria; such detections were not unexpected given the likely previous use of the JHSH site for agricultural purposes.”

In LeRoy, several of the girls whose families rejected the conversion disorder diagnosis obtained independent medical diagnoses that included a post-strep nervous system infection called PANDAS, as well as Lyme Disease. The New Jersey doctor who made several of those diagnoses, Rosario Trifiletti, examined the girls without charge; he said that such infectionsß did not rule out a possible environmental co-factor. One could exacerbate the other and lead to a new clinical syndrome, Trifiletti said.


Dan Olmsted is Editor and Mark Blaxill is Editor at Large of Age of Autism. They are co-authors of “The Age of Autism – Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-made Epidemic. E-mail: [email protected]


Christina Waldman

Despite CDC's calling bifenthrin unrestricted, it is definitely on restricted use lists for pesticides in NY, MD, and CT, the 3 states where the CDC has a study to spray it on lawns to see if that will slow down Lyme disease.
(National Pesticide Information Center, map,click on state. Search for restricted use products (RUP). EPA regis. no. 279--3206, Talstar P Professional, made by FMC. Go to link)
In NY it is illegal to spray it within 100 feet of a body of standing water. It is highly toxic to bees and aquatic life. I live not too far from Leroy, in Rochester.

Christina Waldman

To add to my comment, I see that in lower concentrations bifenthrin can be sold for unrestricted residential use.
Also the Extoxnet page I gave is a cooperative venture of not just Cornell but several universities.

Christina Waldman

The CDC is looking for participants for its bifenthrin yard-spraying study in several states (CT, MD, NY--Duchess County)to see if it controls ticks.
Of special concern to me is the fact that, while a Cornell site calls bifenthrin a restricted use pesticide, the CDC is calling it "unrestricted."

"Is Bifenthrin Safe?"
includes links to the CDC study and others.

Might the effects of neurological poisoning from the pesticide mimic those of Lyme's Disease? I don't know enough to say, but one of the Leroy girls was found to have Lyme disease.


So, testing for things they know they probably won't find, and not testing for things that they are afraid to find. Ignoring a confirmed report of aerial spraying to wrongly assert that such spraying couldn't possibly be at fault. How on earth were they allowed to only test for banned pesticides and not currently used ones? Especially when there is evidence that points to exactly what they should have tested for? Whose idea was it and who signed off on that?

It's shocking and beyond the pale! Keep up the great work!

Joe Harris

I don't buy it,I do buy the fact they were giving out free vaccines in leroy. Probably experimental H1N1 vaccines,
I heard this in an interview on Anderson Cooper. A Dr was asked, what it could be? He suggested it could be strep, and said strep is found in several things and the H1N1 was one of them.

Lets examine the evidence, a flyer announcing the free vaccines give away.

Shortly after, young girls are having serious neurological problems.

As a CDC officer said, when speaking of the great quantity
of Vaccineal Mercury our children were exposed to by the
Thimerosal preservative accumulation.

"this was not rocket science, it's ninth grade math"

Just like, free vaccines = Free Neurological damage.


Great article Dan and Mark, here are a few more points to consider:

How can a rational person conclude "the air was safe" when the only way to actually determine that would be to take air samples during the exposure event? News flash: air is not a static media (it tends to move a lot).

And just how, if they were to find bifenthrin in the air, could they make a determination whether it was safe or not? The chemical hasn't even been evaluated for inhalation exposure:

But great news, we looked, we didn't find anything, and therefore you are safe! (and just a little crazy)

I can't believe the public and media don't question this nonsense. So many are duped into believing what they hear --


I am glad to see that - just having googled Desiree Jenning's name- there are no negative/joke articles. I put in Desiree Jennings, flu vaccine damage-could be another story if I put in 'hoax" because I know someone tried to "catch" her on video supposedly faking her problems. I think we really have to stand behind people like her and these Leroy girls. I cannot imagine the abuse she and these girls have had to take on top of being environmentally injured. Talk about adding insult to injury!


To make matters worse, these poor girls are now taking a lot of flack for coming forward with their stories. Now because of the "conversion disorder" label, malicious people are accusing them of being liars and fakes. It's like that cheerleader who developed dystonia after she got the flu shot. After some smart ass Yale doctor got involved and questioned her dystonia dx, people began to call her a liar and a fake. It became a witch hunt. I think she and these girls are 100% legit and I feel so bad for them now. I am starting to hate these doctors who are offering their opinions. They are so destructive and dangerous.


The Age of Autism and the age of environmental chemical poisoning. If you haven't read the book "The Hundred Year Lie" - it's a great read.

100 years of better living thru chemistry. At what price?

Thanks Dan and Mark for continuing to bring new facts to light on the girls in NY.

I do wonder if they and their families have read this yet.

Lind Brickley

Perhaps Dr. Mechtler, Kim Cox, et al should be invited to a picnic near the cornfield the next time it is due to be dusted with pesticide. See how many of them show up.


And isn't it lovely how this story (until now) disappeared from the media? I've been very curious about the girls outcomes and what is really going on as I live relatively near Leroy. Cover-ups like this make most people forget and others just more determined to find the truth! I'm proud to be part of the latter.


I imagine crop-dusting application would be done in the spring, the months of March thru June being softball season. It was said it was done twice a year. I guess there were no records of it, though. It would be interesting to prove the girls were outside around the time it was being dusted, or directly afterword, thus getting the full force of the neurological disruption.


Yahoo news ran a story recently that the girls who weren't in the news were recovering more quickly the message was clear- do not go to the media. From the article below: "We noticed that the kids who were not in the media were getting better; the kids who were in the media were still very symptomatic," Mechtler said."

How do you like that? coverup or what?

"School's end clears up New York students' mystery twitching"


Dr.Laszlo Mechtler (and all his non-sense conversion disorder middle-age witch hunt diagnosis) and the other Psychologist are stuck in
the fifties and try to create patients for life for themselves by NEVER finding the true root causes to the
effected girls problems.The vaccines (most people have 36 or more)probably already damaged the blood brain barrier so
pesticides and chemicals can get into the Central nervous system easier.The way I see it (I studied Biochemistry)eg:
If someone had Gardasil- the boric acid will increase the
detergency of the polysorbates (wide spectrum detergents)which will open up the (BBB) blood brain barrier,(by lesion)
which allows the
pesticides,chemicals to get in and cause adverse effects:
twitching etc. Dr.Trifiletti is on the right track.


I know Maureen, it's truly astounding and infuriating that they don't seem interested in the truth, especially when it could be anything environmental in nature. I hope the Canary party really takes off.


It has been about 10 hours since I read this on AofA. I googled right after and all that I could find were links to stories about how they figured it out -- the girls had "Conversion Disorder". Now 10 hours later no internet news source is interested - but in Jan and Feb they were all over the story. Just like they were all over Dr. Wakefield but when Dr. Walker-Smith won his lawsuit crickets chirped. Is Dan Olmstead the last journalist left in America?


This is great information, and is something that definitely should be checked out.

But in parallel, i think someone should just check the vaccine records of the victims. Maybe they all just happened to receive a vaccine (... flu shot, gardasil shot, etc) that came from the same "hot lot"? A hot lot that has not yet been discovered by the drug company?

It would be a pretty easy thing to check, and I think everyone here knows that a vaccine is capable of creating this type of disorder.

Jeannette Bishop

Thanks for investigating further into the Leroy illnesses. I hope those involved are finding a restoration of health.

"But the investigators did not appear to consider the possibility of pesticide drift or runoff from neighboring property in the intensively farmed region, or test for currently used pesticides like bifenthrin – only ones banned decades ago."

When someone says they have tested for pesticides, I conjure up this apparently rosy perception of what those tests encompass, that assumes that the testing protocol, if not magically able to detect the presence of anything and everything remotely harmful in the soil, water, etc., will at least include testing for what is currently in use or at least widely in use, or in use in the surrounding areas, particularly in the days before onset...something like that.


Any comments from the LeRoy School district yet? If I were them I'd be all over this one.


Mr. Pangrazio, Mr. Kutschera and Kim Cox better sit down for a meeting about that Neighbour Notification Law- them and some Genesee government officials. I never believed that "conversion" crap for one second. Sounds like Bifenthrin needs to be banned in US, too. Dan and Mark, you guys rock. Are parents of Leroy High School or Erin Brockovich still pursuing this?
I hope Mechtler is made to go on national television and apologize when it is announced that it is most plausible that the girls in fact suffered from some environmental poisoning, NOT some form of hysteria.


Nice job gathering the information. Can we ask why it had to be gotten through the freedom of information act? Sounds like some folks didn't want to help these girls out. And if our trusted officials have already let chemicals on the market that turned out to be so bad they had to be banned, and nothing's changed and we've only added thousands more chemicals with no more appropriate testing that what DDT had, why wouldn't a family or school consider their neighbor's RECENT toxic chemical usage.

Dr. Mechtler says that because of the few tests done for the presence of previously used pesticides coming up in low amounts on the school property that it confirms his hypothesis is now factual? He probably has psych patients who exhibit more logic than that! Is he self-medicating or is his own office in the middle of a corn field?

His personal opinion, based on nothing but air, seems to imply that toxic exposure symptoms are always permanent and that a body wouldn't heal at all from it, yet that's not his field of study, is it? But an environmental medicine specialist would suggest that this is not so and that it is a body's individual (epi)genetic make up and nutrient composition and ongoing exposure that steer whether a body can heal and if so, how fast and in what way.

If there is one girl left exhibiting symptoms, she should be tested for the sprays RECENTLY used in that field prior to her becoming ill, not even just the one that is mentioned in the article, but any others that field owner & duster have used. If he's already had a violation, who's to say he's cleaning out his disbursal container in between flights. And the other girls should still be tested, too. The relevent toxin(s) may still be present, but at levels low enough for the symptoms to have been reduced as their bodies heal.

Nutrient panels would have been/would be interesting. Are there any victims that are low in glutathione, and vitamin C or other antioxident levels, etc.


This one simple video ....might prevent... a billion dollar CDC search for the "LeRoy gene" which could be the cause....

pass the popcorn

"But the investigators did not appear to consider the possibility of pesticide drift or runoff from neighboring property in the intensively farmed region, or test for currently used pesticides like bifenthrin – only ones banned decades ago."

In other words, their investigation was nearly useless.

Fantastic discovery of the crop-dusting video and other input from neighbor. Gotta love that freedom of information act! It's about the only freedom we have left.


This interview of one of the afflicted girls aired on Anderson Coopers show on Monday night:

A Message from a Victim to the Nonbelievers
Monday, July 16, 2012 5:00AM

In response to the news that several girls in the upstate New York town of Le Roy have been afflicted with a strange illness that causes tics and verbal outbursts, many people have expressed their belief that the girls are simply faking the illness.

Lori, 17, one of the teens suffering from the illness, assures Anderson that her condition is real.

"All I say to [the nonbelievers] is, 'give me one reason why I would want to fake this,'" Lori says. "I'm missing out on my life."

Hear more about Lori's condition from Lori and her mother, in the video below


On Monday night on the show "Inside Edition" there was a report about three girls different ages from different parts of the country. Two of the girls has uncontrollable muscle titches/spasms and the third girl couldn't stop sneezing. They were being treated for PANDAs. Here is the link to the story.

"Condition Leaves Three Girls With Mysterious Tics" (aired Monday, July 17, 2012)


Organophosphate which are widely used pesticide can cause tics. Here is a CDC fact sheet on Organophosphates:

Here is a Merck Fact sheet on Insecticide poisoning:

Organophosphates and carbamates cause eye tearing, blurred vision, salivation, sweating, coughing, vomiting, and frequent bowel movements and urination. Breathing may become difficult, and muscles twitch and become weak. Rarely, shortness of breath or muscle weakness is fatal. Symptoms last hours to days after exposure to carbamates but can last for weeks after exposure to organophosphates.

Pyrethrins can cause sneezing, eye tearing, coughing, and occasional difficulty breathing. severe symptoms rarely develop.


Common sense alone -would indicate crop dusting is a bad idea. You have a pesticide releases wway high up, at amazing speeds, with winds up in the atomosphere blowing it around, winds generated by movement of the fast plane blowing it around, winds generated by the plane engines alone ---would cause it all to drift over very large areas!
This could effect everybody except some one in the middle of New York City.
Corn has become the crop to rasie - over top of every thing else, because it is being made into fuel.

Here in my area cattle farmers are getting older and the children are not stepping in to continue. Most of the old farmers/ and their children have rented out their land to soy/corn growers.

One year they plant soy bean
the next they plant corn.
I saw a plane coming back and forth over our house last week and wondered what he was doing. He could very well have been dusting. In this speckled landscape they do not have the right to do that - several sub divsions - scatterd farms and many scattered houses - it is rather a dense population here. for a speck of 10-50 acreas of corn.
Not the 100s and 1000s like in Indiania, Ohio, or Michigan.

I would imagine this area in New York is set up like that too - scattered field mixed in with a rather scattered but dense population of people.

Crop dusting is a stupid idea anyway.
I look forward to the militaries new inventions of just barely up off the ground

John Stone

So glad we're getting this stuff over here now.

Teresa Conrick

Dan and Mark,

Great job making these connections. I saw that June report, where Conversion Disorder was again being pronounced as THE REASON for all of these sick people. It makes sense that there is a medical reason for this illness in LeRoy. A pesticide, a poison, has been identified. Add in microbes and it is a recipe, not too different at all from what what you researched in your book, Age of Autism, and what we here keep talking about. Why are people like Dr. Laszlo Mechtler afraid of being incorrect?


Thank you Dan and Mark for this valuable reporting.

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