Town Mulls Autism Mystery

Sea breezes and a river run through Brick Township, New Jersey, and now so does a fear that something here is hurting the children.

"She didn't say daddy until she was four and a half years old and she didn't say mommy until after five," says parent Bobbie Gallagher.

Bobbie and William Gallagher's daughter Alanna was diagnosed autistic a neurological disorder which leaves children barely able to communicate. Their son Austin is the same.

"I think after the second one we automatically assumed genetics. It wasn't until shortly after that we started meeting other parents that we realized that that wasn't the case," says Bobbie Gallagher.

With the help of local officials, the Gallaghers identified 41 cases of autism in Brick Township--that's 12 times the national average.

"That's a cluster, that's a higher amount than obviously I expected, but then the biggest question is clearly ascertaining why," says Dr. Audrey Mars.

Dr. Mars is now working with the Centers For Disease Control.

"What our study is looking at is there environmental factors?," says Dr. Mars.

This is the first autism cluster ever identified, but the CDC has studied others like cancer. Often victims are linked by a drug they took or a place they worked. But the case of a whole town in trouble is rare.

The recent film A Civil Action and a highly publicized case in nearby Tom's River, New Jersey, both focus on cancer clusters and blame industrial polluters. The conclusions have never been proven.

We obviously feel that there is some sort of environmental contaminant that linked all of us together. I'm not even sure we have a blame yet," says Bobbie Gallagher.

The river? The air? The ground? Or perhaps coincidence? The Gallaghers have ruled the last one out.

Reported By Diana Olick
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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