LEROY, NY (PIX11)— As doctors struggle to explain why more than a dozen girls in this town are suffering from Tourette’s-like symptoms, new questions are swirling around the cleanup of a 40-year-old chemical spill that contaminated some of the local water supply.
At least 30,000 gallons of trichloroethylene (TCE), an industrial solvent that’s hazardous high doses — and can affect the nervous system — were dumped into the ground in a 1970 train crash on the outskirts of Le Roy. The TCE eventually soaked into the groundwater and spread in a plume under part of Le Roy, a disaster the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared a Superfund site in 1999.
But PIX 11 News discovered the Superfund site in a shocking state of neglect with more than 200 industrial drums full of potentially hazardous waste rusting outdoors. Dozens of drums were full of holes with the contents spilling out. The EPA, which admitted to PIX 11 that at least 100 barrels have been rotting on the site since the 1990s, also said it didn’t have a complete grasp of the contents.
“[The barrels] contain dirt and rock from when wells were dug to monitor ground water at the site,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “Most of these drums have been tested and contain material that is not considered hazardous and we are gathering more information about the balance.”
While the EPA admitted that more testing was required to determine if barrels contained TCE, a contractor hired by the EPA told PIX 11 that the barrels did, in fact, contain rock and dirt contaminated with the chemical.
“To be safe, it’s put in drums and carted away and there’s a plant that burns it,” the contractor said. When it was pointed out that the barrels seemed to be abandoned, he added, “It’s like everything else. They forget about it until the cameras show up and it’s like, ‘Oh, we better get rid of the damn things.'”
Amid persistent questioning, the EPA move quickly at the site. Within 48 hours of his first inquiry, contractors hired by the agency appeared at the site in Hazmat suits and began working on the barrels. “EPA is taking steps to get these drums removed from the site as soon as possible,” an agency spokesperson said in a statement.
As for theories the spill is connected to the twitching disorder that has affected girls at Le Roy High School, the EPA agrees with the New York State Department of Health, which says there is no link. “We do not believe pollution from [the site] is impacted the school,” an EPA statement said. “As we gather all the facts, we will keep the community, our state partners and the school district up to date.”
Doctors who have treated or tested the girls in Le Roy believe they are suffering from conversion disorder, or the twitching symptoms are possibly related to an infection.