The school where 12 girls developed tics attributed to "conversion disorder" has a history of water and structural problems, and an outbreak of rashes and sores occurred among students playing sports on land where the school is now sitting, according to a student who went there.
"When we first started we couldn't go to gym class because the floor kept sinking and cracking," said the student, who attended the new LeRoy Junior/Senior High School in 2005, its first year of operation. She was one of several people who described the site as a "swamp."
One year, students had to start a week late because of flooding inside the building, she said.
Before the current school -- which goes from eighth to twelfth grades -- was built, the site was used for student playing fields; the school itself was at another location. The new building sits directly atop those playing fields.
In the 1970s, students using those fields suffered from open sores that would not heal and rashes, said the former student, whose mother also went there and recalled the incident. The soil was tested, the cause was found, the students were treated and recovered. She did not know what the tests had shown.
This student expressed surprise that two consultant reports commissioned by the district, which found no problems with indoor air quality or toxins in the school building, stated: "No history of building water damage or site contamination was found."
She is not alone. On a Facebook site set up to support the students, one commenter wrote: "I read the environmental report and it seems like the testing wasn't very thorough. ... Correct me if I am wrong but wasn't the school partially underwater when it was first built? And how about soil testing. It seems like that would be included in thorough environmental testing? These girls deserve some answers. Praying for all of them and hoping we all get some answers soon."
Last week, I reported that except for checking a log of pesticide spraying, there is no evidence the consultants considered toxins in the schoolyard or on playing fields. Yet the symptoms occurred during mild weather when students would have been outside, and the school grounds are surrounded by intensively farmed land from which chemicals could conceivably have seeped or drifted.
The school is required to keep annual pesticide logs that were reviewed by the consulting firm, and therefore pesticides were ruled out. As best I could determine, that’s as far as it went.
The former student told me that some outside areas are used exclusively by girls, including a softball diamond.
Conversion disorder is a psychogenic diagnosis that means a psychological issue, such as stress or trauma, is converted unconsciously into physical symptoms. Several parents and affected students say they don’t accept that explanation. According to press reports, they have lost confidence in the Buffalo clinic that made the diagnosis and are now seeking other doctors to examine their children; the Buffalo clinic has reportedly now offered to conduct more tests.
One press report says the total number of students affected has reached 16 and includes one boy.
Neither the district nor the consulting firm it hired would talk to me about the issue.
On Friday, Jeffrey Hammond, a spokesman for the state Department of Health, told me, "The school is safe. The environment or an infection is not the cause of the students’ tics. There are many causes of tics-like symptoms. Stress can often worsen tic-like symptoms.
“All of the affected students have been evaluated and some have shown signs of improvement. Vaccines (Gardasil) have been ruled out."
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism and co-author, with Mark Blaxill, of "The Age of Autism -- Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-Made Disorder." He has been an editor and reporter at USA Today and United Press International, where his investigation of severe side effects of an antimalaria drug given to U.S. soldiers won Best Wire Service Reporting from the National Mental Health Association.