Environmental activist Erin Brockovich is investigating a mystery Tourette's-like illness, which has struck down at least 15 students at the same high school in New York state, causing distressing verbal outbursts and involuntary twitches.
Reports of teenagers at Le Roy High School, N.Y., displaying Tourette's-like symptoms first surfaced in November last year and now 15 students claim they have the condition, The Democrat and Chronicle reported Friday.
Neurologists claim the students are suffering from mass psychogenic illness — a psychological disorder that has spread through the student population unconsciously.
But Brockovich, who was famously depicted by Julia Roberts in a movie about the activist's work on a California water-contamination case, believes more research needs to be done on environmental factors that may have caused the mystery condition.
"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," Brockovich, who is sending an associate to LeRoy to gather samples, told the newspaper.
Environmentalists want to look into whether five natural gas wells surrounding the school, which recently underwent a fracturing procedure, may have triggered the illness.
There are also rumors that the school is built upon rock and soil contaminated by a toxic spill caused by a 1970 train derailment, although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it has no knowledge of this.
One of the teenagers affected, Chelsey Dumars, 16, told WGRZ-TV she was frustrated with the mystery condition and wanted answers.
Talking about the tics that plague her all day long, she said, "I hate it when it happens ... my body's sore. Sometimes it gets me to the point I want to cry from twitching so much."
"How can you send your child to school perfectly normal and a couple of hours later you're picking her up in this condition?" Chelsey's father Dave Watson asked the station. "Whether it's environmental, or whatever's going on we have to find the answer."