Is Fracking Causing the Mystery Disease in Le Roy, New York?

Today, I learned that eighteen individuals in LeRoy, New York have been suffering inexplicably from a strange neurological disorder that caused them to develop “uncontrollable twitching and verbal tics.”

No one seems to be able to explain the root cause behind these behaviors, but I had a wild theory. I was curious where LeRoy, New York was located. When I checked, I was not surprised to find it was in Western New York, an area of high fracking activity.

So I decided to do some more research. Where there any shale deposits in LeRoy?

Well, it turns out that at least five natural gas wells ring the school building:

“Five natural gas wells owned by the LeRoy school district ring the junior-senior high school building, which opened in 2003. The wells have undergone the controversial procedure known as hydraulic fracturing, state environmental officials said. About 25 western New York school districts own gas wells, though none have more active wells than LeRoy.”

Those who follow this blog know that I am an unabashed supporter of the free market and maximizing the exploitation of whatever energy resources we have, while simultaneously shifting to cleaner sources of energy. That said, I draw a line when people’s health starts to suffer from the impact of said exploitation.

So what’s the official explanation of what is going on?

The New York Department of Health issued a report “ruling out environmental or infectious causes behind the illnesses in LeRoy.” Experts are attributing the illness to conversion disorder, a fancy euphemism for hysteria.

That might as well call it witchcraft, because people do not start twitching independently and for significant lengths of time.

However, the plot thickens.

One mile from the school, there is a Federal Superfund Cleanup site where the government stores a chemical called TCE that was spilled during a train derailment in 1970.

Whether the illness is caused by contaminants introduced by the fracking process, TCE that leaked into the environment, or a mixture of both is unclear.

But mass hysteria? What is this, the Salem Witch Trials?

Or wait, ergot may have been responsible for the Salem girls’ peculiar behavior.

About Sean Patrick Hazlett

Finance executive, engineer, former military officer, and science fiction and horror writer. Editor of the Weird World War III anthology.
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28 Responses to Is Fracking Causing the Mystery Disease in Le Roy, New York?

  1. Chris says:

    New reader – and new follower. Great intellectual approach to issues…

  2. Tevyeh says:

    My wife was born in LeRoy. I’ve never noticed any twitching or verbal tics, but there’s definitely something funny about her.

  3. middleagedhousewife says:

    Fracking itself is not a new technology. In my teens we had many oil wells and fracking wells where I lived and to my knowledge there was never an issue with contaminated ground water. However these were shallow wells and the areas being fracked now are much deeper and greater pressures are being used. There definitely needs to be more study on the geological and environmental effects of fracking, but at the same time, we have to be very careful that environmental extremism doesn’t hinder development. The Eagle Ford Shale has been an economic boon to Texas and has insulated it somewhat from the recession. There would have to be some pretty compelling evidence of danger, before a lot of the people employed by the drilling industry would be willing to give up that path to prosperity.

    • VR Kaine says:

      I’m an Alberta native where like in Texas, we’re huge on oil & gas. I think there can be a balance struck between industry-economy-safety-environment and usually I fall slightly on the side of industry. When it comes to completely contaminating drinking water and worse – setting things up ahead of time so you can do so without fear of legal consequences, I side completely with the greenies on that one.

      I want land we can exploit, but I want us to be able to keep exploiting it over and over again (Haha!) until we can get away from fossil fuels altogether.

    • There could be a number of things causing this illness, but I think conversion disorder is by far the silliest explanation.

      I don’t know if TCE or the chemicals used in fracking are to blame, but it is definitely worth looking into.

      • VR Kaine says:

        I think the fact that they’re even trying to dismiss this as hysteria shows just how afraid they are to go anywhere near the facts of the issue. It also sucks that they force people into NDA’s for them to get any kind of compensation in return for the damage.

        Again, usually I fall more on the side of industry, such as with BP and the many losers who tried to pile on and claim frivolous lawsuits against them with bogus claims, but when a group of people in the same area are showing serious neurological symptoms, and the companies won’t even disclose what their chemicals are that they’re using, that’s totally wrong.

    • wendy says:

      environmental extremism?????????? Wow! The earth does not belong to anyone!! We have to protect it. When you don’t have any water to drink come back and post a comment about “environmental extremism”!! Let’s remember without water there is no life! With out water there is no development. I myself would much rather stay in a ^recession^ than be insulated from it because fracking came to town, Please do more research on high volume hydraulic fracturing! Paths to prosperity are often paved by greed! BAN FRACKING NOW!

      • middleagedhousewife says:

        Wendy, I have always believed that we should be good stewards of the planet we are blessed to live on. I believe that we can and should balance human progress with protecting the environment. I said in another comment that I believe fracking should be used CAUTIOUSLY. If the research proves that it is contaminating the drinking water where it is being used then it should be stopped. I agree with you about the necessity of clean water. However, I stand behind my comment about being wary of environmental extremism. There are individuals and groups who feel that ANY use of the earth’s resources is unacceptable, and they use dubious research to support their positions, just as large corporations use dubious research to promote their’s. It is also unfair to characterize hard working oil field workers as greedy for simply taking advantage of the job opportunities presented to them to put a roof over their family’s heads and meals in their stomachs. That’s the kind of prosperity I was referring to. Not filling corporate coffers. I absolutely believe that businesses should operate in ways that protect the environment, but those procedures must be based on factual research and not on knee jerk emotional reactions.

    • goldenaldi says:

      Have you ever seen the documentary “Gas Land”? Seems like they use over 500 chemicals for fracking. Seems like many people living on their land where fracking is taking place can actually ignite their water streaming from the faucets. I don’t think they are using the same procedure as 30 yrs. ago. Halliburton has advanced technology and the pharma industry and monsanto are booming with all kinds of poisonous chemicals.
      But if fracking caused this illness, then why aren’t there many more cases of this popping up all across the nation?
      Their twitching reminded me of the football cheerleader who after taking a flu vaccine, had mobility problems, her head was always bobbing, and other weird stuff. This is similar. I wonder if these girls and now 2 guys had any vaccines lately.

  4. VR Kaine says:

    I just watched “Gasland”. Apparently the fracking isn’t subject to the Clean Air or Clean Water Acts. They also get around regulation by having a number of small operations rather than a single larger one, which keeps their individual #’s small even while their aggregate #’s are large.

    Causing herds to take a different migration route is one thing – messing with peoples’ drinking water is something far more serious, especially with kids.

    To me if these companies don’t have the b@lls to drink the water in the areas they’re drilling in, they shouldn’t either millionaire these people out of their land, or not drill – period.

  5. middleagedhousewife says:

    If I remember right (and that’s a big if because it was a long time ago) 🙂 the fracking that was done where I used to live used salt water. Now they mix in a lot of toxic chemicals. It is my understanding that the dangers posed by fracking depend a great deal on where the ground water sources lie in relation to the shale formations. Anyway I think we should use fracking, but use it cautiously. Generally I’m for more oil production, but it can and should be done in an environmentally friendly way. At any rate, any increase in the availability of fossil fuels is only a temporary fix, and we will need to find alternatives eventually.

  6. Yoga Girl says:

    Fracking, chemicals, misdiganosis and cover up…sorry, wrong linke included in previous post.

  7. middleagedhousewife says:

    I find the possibility of the HPV vaccine being the cause of the illness to be very interesting indeed. I refused to let my daughter get vaccinated with gardasil when it first came out because the long term affects were unknown. I did not want my child to be a guinea pig. It is very possible that these girls were vaccinated with a contaminated batch.

  8. Annabel Lee says:

    New reader – Came over from MPBulletin’s post recommending your site.

    Living in Western Maryland, and having been accused of being a treehugger, we have had some experiences in this area with fracking. We have PA and WV coal sectors in the area, and many of our waterways are interconnected, including underground aquifers. Some people in this area have become sick, with the official response being that it’s a neurological disorder with late onset. The number of people who I’ve met with some form of confusion, fatigue, illness or twitching is staggering.

    Unlike “Gasland”, I haven’t been able to set my tap water on fire, and it doesn’t smell funny when it leaves the tap. That doesn’t mean that small amounts of the fracking process aren’t making their way into the drinking water.

    The EPA has been examining fracking sites in Wyoming for nearly a decade, and there have been regulations proposed to add fracking to the EPA’s supervision. These have been killed in committee by members receiving large campaign contributions from natural gas producers. The public uproar isn’t present to fight the money-machine of Washington politics. Since the problem is outside of Maryland, our legislators are unable to control the problem, as they have no jurisdiction across state lines. It is an unfortunate situation we find ourselves in.

    Side note: It’s nice to see someone who calls themselves a Republican who uses a rational approach to events. I’ll be sure to check back often, as I enjoy others views on the same subjects.

    • Annabel,

      Thanks for stopping by.

      I think it is important to strike a balance between generating enough energy resources to grow our economy, and keeping the environment clean. I also think market-based solutions are the best way to achieve that goal. That said, it seems to me that this country is rushing headlong into fracking without a complete understanding of how some of the contaminants drillers use in the process may impact human beings. In places where there are large populations, I think the government should enforce current Clean Air Act statutes rather than exempting certain companies as Vern claimed it does earlier in this thread. I had always assumed that fracking satisfied all the standard environmental requirements of the Clean Air Act. Evidently it does not, and this is concerning.

      “Side note: It’s nice to see someone who calls themselves a Republican who uses a rational approach to events. I’ll be sure to check back often, as I enjoy others views on the same subjects.”

      Thanks, Annabel. I probably won’t always write things with which you agree, but I appreciate your willingness to foster a more open dialogue.

      • Annabel Lee says:

        I have no problem with opposing viewpoints. I have numerous readers of my site who call themselves Republicans, Libertarians or Conservatives. I engage in dialogue with them, present my views, and explain why I believe the things I do. I feel that everyone has the same right to their opinions as I have of mine.

        I’ve been accused of being a liberal (I am), a socialist (I am), and yet, I’ve also been called a “social libertarian”, which surprises most readers. I tend to be more understanding of others positions, and willing to listen, rather than just talk. So I’m always happy to see someone who writes using logic, reason and substance, rather than talking points, “hate-speech”, rhetoric or nonsense. That goes for all affiliations, as I am neither Dem or Rep. I’m a registered socialist, and I’m okay with that.

        Feel free to check out my own site, and let me know what you think. I always appreciate more open dialogue, and exposure to new methods of thinking that perhaps I have overlooked in my own research and understanding.

        • “Feel free to check out my own site, and let me know what you think. I always appreciate more open dialogue, and exposure to new methods of thinking that perhaps I have overlooked in my own research and understanding.”

          It looks like we’ve crossed paths. I just left a note on your site. I also saw this site was on your blogroll, so I’ve added yours to mine. 😉

  9. Neil Slade says:

    According to CNN, there was a SPILL OF FRACKING CHEMICALS AT THE SCHOOL ONE MONTH BEFORE THE FIRST REPORTED CASE- bad enough to kill trees on the property.

    And in their great foresight- Colorado law makers REFUSED to pass a law prohibiting fracking within 1000 feet of any school, citing, “We’ll leave it to the industry to take care of things.”

    I think, unfortunately, whether these girls are suffering solely from hysteria, or from real poisoning- that some girls are more sensitive to toxic poisoning than others– or BOTH-

    they are indeed, Canaries in Our Coal Mine.

    Wake up people.
    TIckle your amygdala forward already.

  10. wendy keith says:


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