Families in New York are struggling to find out what is causing severe physical twitching and verbal outbursts by a group of teenagers at Le Roy High School near Rochester.

Two neurologists have diagnosed ten girls with conversion disorders –nervous system symptoms brought on by psychological conflict and stress.

The case has drawn the attention of environmental activist Erin Brockovich who wants to dig deeper into a 1970 train derailment that spilled cyanide and an industrial solvent called trichloroethene (TCE) near the high school.

Brockovich, best known for the 2000 movie starring Julia Roberts about her investigation into toxic chemicals in California, believes the spill may have caused water and ground contamination leading to the girls’ symptoms.

The school district claims medical and environmental investigations show no evidence of an infectious cause for the symptoms, but a 1999 report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the spilled TCE was absorbed into the ground, unlike the cyanide, which was removed completely.

According to a fact sheet from the New York Department of Health, TCE, which is used to remove grease from metal and strip paint, can contaminate groundwater if it is improperly disposed or leaks into the ground, and exposure to high levels has been shown to damage the central nervous system in laboratory animals.