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Drums pulled from site near school

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday began removing barrels from a Superfund site in Genesee County. The site has been the subject of speculation related to an illness affecting students at Le Roy High School.

Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Amherst, made the announcement in a news release. She said the barrels would be gone by the end of the week and would be disposed of at a landfill in Belleville, Mich.

"Removing these barrels is a critical step forward to ensuring that we clean up this site and put public health and safety first," Sen. Charles E. Schumer said in the same release, which also credited Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and came following discussions with EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck.

The barrels were left behind following a Lehigh Valley Railroad train derailment in 1970 that spilled more than 30,000 gallons of the industrial solvent trichloroethene (TCE). Groundwater wells were contaminated. The site, which is 3 1/2 miles from the school, eventually became a Superfund site overseen by the EPA.

Hochul said testing has been completed on all 235 drums, and the EPA has found all barrels to be nonhazardous.

The largely forgotten site emerged late last year when more than a dozen high school students began exhibiting symptoms that mimicked Tourette syndrome, including involuntary movements and tics. Some suggested that environmental factors might have been behind their conditions.

But Amherst neurologist Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, who examined some of the girls, has said they have conversion disorder, a physical manifestation of psychological stress.

Despite his finding, and due to prodding from environmentalist Erin Brockovich, politicians and others, the remnants of the train derailment continued to attract attention, leading to the EPA decision.

The agency initially considered shipping the waste to the CWM hazardous waste landfill in Porter, but officials there balked and said they would work to ensure that it was not disposed of at the state's only licensed hazardous waste facility.