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Open Letter to the Town of Leroy, NY: Learn Lessons from the Autism Epidemic

Posted Jan 01 2012 12:00am

Schoolboy-blunders By Kevin Barry


The heavy rains and flooding in August and September 2011 may have lead to a release of dichloroacetylene (DCA) in LeRoy, NY.  DCA is a neurotoxic decomposition product of trichloroethylene (TCE) which spilled in the area 40 years ago due to a train derailment.  DCA has been shown to cause tremors and cranial nerve palsies – or the more vernacular name - tics.  More investigation of this possible connection is warranted.

Mass hysteria?  Conversion disorder?  Really? Have you learned nothing since the Salem Witch Trials? Those explanations are no more ridiculous than trying to blame refrigerator mothers or old sperm for the autism epidemic.   Wasting time on ridiculous explanations is tragic because it does not help those currently injured and it does not prevent new injuries.  LeRoy psychiatrists?  Please admit that you do not know what happened to these girls and move along.

I listened to the families and the girls who were experiencing the symptoms, which lead me to question, why LeRoy, NY?  Why now? 

After reading about the 1970 TCE spill, which is unique to the LeRoy community, I began searching to see if TCE could have a role in the neurological issues.  Additionally, could the massive flooding that the LeRoy area experienced in the aftermath of both Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee help explain why this is happening now, and not previously in the last 40 years?

The town officials and school district should be transparent with their environmental test results and provide those results to the public as soon as possible. The town officials and school district should also allow for private testing to search for TCE/DCA exposure to corroborate their results.   I believe there is sufficient rationale for additional testing to determine specifically if TCE/DCA plays a role in the physical issues these children are experiencing.  

While the potential connection between TCE/DCA and the girls with neurological symptoms is speculative and needs to be confirmed by testing, the potential connection warrants specific investigation.   An article from 1984 in the journal Archives of Toxicology suggests all that is required to form DCA vapor is TCE plus “moist concrete.”  As a result, in addition to the school property, many locations in LeRoy should be tested for TCE/DCA contamination.

A 1944 paper describes how DCA may have caused “Cranial Nerve Palsies” in 13 patients (10 women) when TCE was used as an anesthetic.  The 1944 paper makes a very important general point about toxicology: 

“The fact that only a small proportion (of those exposed to the anesthetic) showed symptoms would mean that there must be great variation in susceptibility. Such variations are well known in toxicology.”

LeRoy officials and public health officials should allow private environmental testing throughout their town, which like activists like Erin Brockovich have called for recently.  They should test specifically for TCE/DCA exposure to either rule it out, or if those affected have been exposed to TCE/DCE, to help identify the best available treatments and the best possible methods to prevent injury to others.    

Kevin Barry

Rationale for testing specifically for TCE/DCA exposure

1)    In 1970, TCE spills in train derailment in LeRoy, NY.   In 1999 it was named a Superfund site by the EPA.

EPA Places Site in Genesee County on the Final Superfund National Priorities List
Release Date: 01/19/1999!OpenDocument&Start=2.7&Count=5&Expand=2.9

"NEW YORK, N.Y. -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has placed the hazardous waste site in LeRoy, New York on the final Superfund National Priorities List (NPL), the federal list of the nation's worst hazardous waste sites. ….. In 1970, the Lehigh Valley Road site was contaminated by a chemical spill from a train derailment, which caused contamination of soils and drinking water wells in the area.

Despite cleanup measures directed by the state and undertaken by the party responsible for the pollution immediately following the accident, the Lehigh Valley Road site still contains soils with elevated levels of primarily trichloroethylene (TCE) and a contaminated groundwater plume extending almost 4 miles east and southeast of the site."

2)     TCE may have been disturbed by the massive flooding of August-September 2011 as a result of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.  The illnesses in LeRoy began in September 2011 just after the historic rains.

Tropical storm Lee came right after and tracked further west than Hurricane Irene, causing massive flooding .

There was additional flooding in nearby Rochester on August 14, pre Irene and Lee. 

Record Rain Soaks Rochester

Posted at: 08/14/2011 8:02 PM |

The Rochester area set a record for rainfall Sunday, with about 1.75 inches in a 24-hour period. It was the most the city has ever gotten on August 14th. The heaviest rain fell between 2:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., stranding drivers across the area.

3)      When TCE comes into contact with alkaline materials, such as moist concrete, it forms Dichloroacetylene (DCA), a neurotoxin.  The heavy rainfall and flooding may have caused TCE to come into contact moist concrete (or other alkaline materials).

Formation of dichloroacetylene from trichloroethylene in the presence of alkaline material--possible cause of intoxication after abundant use of chloroethylene-containing solvents 

“This finding suggests formation of dichloroacetylene, when trichloroethylene comes into contact with moderately alkaline material, such as moist concrete.”

4)    Inhaled DCA likely caused Cranial Nerve Palsies, as described in a 1944 paper, discussing the use of TCE as an anesthetic.


“Evidence is given for chemical reactions between soda-lime and trichloroethylene in the system, with the production of dichloroacetylene.”

“The fact that only a small proportion (of those exposed) showed symptoms would mean that there must be great variation in susceptibility. Such variations are well known in toxicology.”

5)    DCA is a decomposition product of TCE and can cause tremors.

“The substance (DCA) is not commercially available but it is a decomposition product of trichloroethylene”

6)    10 of the 13 people who developed facial palsies in the 1944 paper were women.  If TCE is the problem, the TCE decomposition neurotoxin DCA may be more toxic to women than to men for some reason.

 Kevin Barry is the parent of a child with regressive autism.


Posted by Age of Autism at January 31, 2012 at 5:56 AM in Current Affairs , Environment Permalink

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