Last August, 16-year-old Lori Brownell from LeRoy, N.Y., fainted for the first time. Soon after, she developed twitches that got progressively worse with time. By Christmas, doctors had diagnosed Lori with Tourette syndrome, a sickness that causes involuntary physical and vocal tics.
Case closed — or so they thought. Since Lori's diagnosis, 17 other teenagers have developed the same twitches and tics. The teens are all senior and junior high school students at LeRoy Junior and Senior High School. There are 16 girls and one boy currently affected.
New York neurologists who have seen a number of the teens think the students are suffering from a psychological disorder that causes physical symptoms to spread throughout the student body. In other words — hysteria.
But some LeRoy parents are concerned that there is more going on here. And they're even more concerned that officials from the school and the state don't seem to be taking their kids' cases more seriously.
But that may change now that their teens' symptoms and the environmental conditions of the area have attracted the star eco-sleuthing power of Erin Brockovich.
Brockovich, the environmental activist popularized by Julia Roberts in the eponymous 2000 movie, has begun an investigation into the illness that is affecting the teens and its possible link to a 1970s chemical spill that occurred three miles away. Brockovich and local environmentalists worry that doctors have not yet considered environmental contaminants, infectious illnesses or vaccinations as possible causes of the cluster.
"While we don't have the answers, we are suspicious that the all-clear has been sounded on the environmental side and we don't believe that it should have been," said Brockovich.
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