Life - altering, dangerous chemical use: we do have a choice.
Subject: Poisons (Social aspects)
Poisons (Health aspects)
Consumer goods (Chemical properties)
Consumer goods (Health aspects)
Author: Jones, Audrey
Pub Date: 02/01/2012
Publication: Name: Townsend Letter Publisher: The Townsend Letter Group Audience: General; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 The Townsend Letter Group ISSN: 1940-5464
Issue: Date: Feb-March, 2012 Source Issue: 343-344
Topic: Event Code: 290 Public affairs
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 282825225
Full Text: As adaptable humans, we have learned to protect our very survival, and do what is necessary in the face of danger, right? Or has our ability to adapt changed?

I don't recall hearing about dangerous chemicals as a child, but I do remember struggling with cigarette smoke and exhaust from cars and buses. My childhood was spent in metropolitan Washington, D.C, in the 1950s and 1960s. My mother was divorced, on her own with three children, struggling. We lived a frugal lifestyle, emerging with rock 'n'roll, life was OK.

I have scent memories from childhood; one memory is of my dear Aunt Hilda, handing me a throw-up bag and a pack of chewing gum when getting into her car, as I once threw up in her brand-new Studebaker when we got behind a bus. Back then, car exhausts were everywhere; clean air standards didn't exist.

Scent memories from my mother center on cigarette smoke. My mother was a heavy smoker, as many people were back then, and she occasionally had two cigarettes in an ashtray at once. When visiting my father, also a heavy smoker, I covered my face with my clothing, as his smoke-filled car was unbearable. I still have strong memories of how uncomfortable and confused I felt when my father would laugh loudly, telling me I was overreacting when trying to avoid the smoke.

During grade school, my aunt would send money for me to buy a winter coat or a pair of shoes, and I would ride the bus downtown to meet my mother after her work to shop for them. When on and near the buses I kept my face buried in my clothing as the fumes made me feel so sick. As I got older I would ride the bus to the Smithsonian Institute, my very favorite place, enduring the fumes, not wanting to draw attention, and unaware of any long-term health effects.

The smell of diesel was always a challenge for me. Once in the 1970s while as a passenger in a friend's car, we were behind a billowing diesel truck. I explained that I needed to get away from the diesel fumes, and as the fumes became stronger, I begged to get out of the car. I explained I was feeling sick; he responded, "Just don't think about it" - and before he finished saying that, I threw up in his car. In recent years I've learned that diesel fumes blanket us with the dangerous chemicals: benzene, formaldehyde, nickel, and more.

In the 1980s I started a business in filtration, wanting so much to be a part of cleaning up the planet. I sold filtration products for liquid and gases, to large industry; semi-conductor, food and beverage, and oil and gas, secondary oil recovery injection wells.

The business was in California, where workplace emissions were regulated and fairly safe. However, on some occasions, I experienced chemical exposures. I endured, again not realizing any long-term health effects. The business was successful, and after three years, I sold it to an oil-company purchasing agent.

In the 1980s in California, toxic chemical exposure to employees was measured in the workplace. Employees often wore monitoring badges. When the color of the badge changed, indicating danger, it was time for employees to leave the area - and they left!

Today, many toxic chemicals used in industry with known hazards to health, as stated on their Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), are the same ones being used in the chemical perfume scents, laundry detergents, dryer sheets, personal care products, cleaning products, food products, clothing, and much more; the list is very long.

Toxic chemicals are regulated when used in industry for employee exposure level, and monitored. And, unregulated, not monitored, when put into chemical fragrances, laundry detergents, personal care items, and thousands of other products that are heavily used by the public, daily. Chemicals that touch our skin, and our hair and with every breath we pull into our lungs.

Around year 2000 I had a major change in my ability to deal with chemical scents.

Once I purchased a box of dishwasher soap, and shortly after leaving the store, while on the freeway I had to pull over and leave it by the roadside, as the toxic scent coming from the box overwhelmed me, I could not breathe. My friend went back later to pick it up and return it to the store.

In 2005 a new house was completed next door to my home, with the clothes-dryer vent just feet from my front entrance. The dryer ran throughout the day with a pungent, awful fragrance streaming from the vent: a strong sickly smell that affected my breathing, made me feel weak, and gave me horrible headaches.

One day at 6 a.m. I walked up my driveway about 300 feet and was horrified when I could smell that sickly smell on the leaves of bushes and trees 300 feet away from the neighbors' dryer vent, as it had been carried by the breeze. The chemical scents affected the birds there too. The finches that always visited by the hundreds to feed on the seeds of hedges near my entry stopped coming. I tried to get the new neighbors not use fragrances, I begged and pleaded, but they never stopped.

Once I entered a print shop and instantly lost my voice, my tongue burning and my throat closing; I left immediately. On the upside, I have a warning system, in a sense (to make a pun): my major warning is my tongue. On exposure, the tip of my tongue starts to burn; if I don't leave immediately, my whole tongue begins to feel larger, and my voice starts to go, sometimes in an instant. If I do not leave the area, my throat could continue to close - it's very frightening. I've had occasions when I had to run to an exit while holding my breath.

In the past I didn't know that fragrances were being created from industrial chemicals. Who would have thought? I now know that xylene, toluene, acetone, benzene, and hundreds of other dangerous industrial chemicals are being inserted into our highest-use consumer products, without regulations for labeling; there is no way to identify them.

Safe housing has become my greatest concern. I've moved due to chemical fragrances from dryer vents, propane leaks, EMF readings so high that they exceeded the highest unsafe readings on a commercial Trifield Meter, black mold, and air pollution from a local mill that burned biomass.

Once when living a few miles from a mill, I woke feeling my tongue thick and my throat closing all the way down my neck; I could barely breathe, swallow, or move. I thought that I surely would die. I had accidently fallen asleep with my window slightly open and quickly realized, gasping for air, that it was due to the chemical smog coming from the mill as it filled my bedroom. I usually didn't have a problem with the mill; that is, if I kept my windows closed to prevent breathing in case the wind shifted my way.

At another apartment, I had a similar experience, awakening at night about 10:30 from the smell of pesticides. My landlord was spraying pesticides at 10:30 at night. I closed my window and again endured. I cried that night.

My current apartment lease was written by my landlady, and it includes a separate addendum stating a fragrance-free environment. However, many times when I first moved in, the chemical fragrances were in the laundry room and the common hallway. At first the landlady forgot and used a fragranced detergent and stopped when asked, then her son accidently was using one, then stopped, then heavily fragranced clothing was being stored in stacks in the laundry area, and I explained again.

Recently, it has become much better. The others sharing the laundry are now really making an effort. I am so grateful. As of a few days ago, I could smell fragrance as I entered the laundry area, but it was mild. I think that it was coming from clothing on top of the washer, but for past few weeks I could not smell fragrances at all when I entering the laundry area.

My apartment is over laundry area, and when the fragrances were high below me, I could smell them in my unit. Or, when the fragrances were high and I open my hall door, the chemical scents filled the hallway. I still use caution - I only open my window over the dryer vent when no one is doing laundry. However, also recently, fragrance from the unit below filled my apartment on two occasions. It was from my neighbor's bathroom below. I believe that it is possible that the ceiling fan I use while in the shower to remove moisture and her heater ceiling fan could have been responsible. I'm pulling her warm air up into my space. The neighbors also over her unit say that they experience food smells when the landlady cooks below.

I he landlady trom the apartment below as of a couple of days ago explained to me that she does not read labels when purchasing a product. She just smells it, and if she likes it she uses it. She further explained that it's hard for her to empathize with those who are sensitive to fragrance: as fragrances do not bother her, she has no problem with them; however, she did say that she does not like cigarette smoke.

Chemical scents by design are intended to last for hundreds of washes. Chemical fragrances are embedded into plasticizers, like phthalates (the neuroendocrine disrupters); the plasticizers are then embedded into the fabrics. Often, the plasticizers are placed into the fabrics to enable dyes to adhere better, like the metal-derived dyes, some that are banned in this country but permitted in China. And, we all know, everything comes from China nowadays.

Maybe it's really not the chemical scents users' fault; maybe they too wish that the chemical fragrances were gone. Many people don't know that some chemicals can make you lose your sense of smell - that's possibly what was going on with my current landlady, as she said she could not smell them at all.

I often think about the people who continue to use fragranced products even when told of the dangers. I've wondered if they are just contrary, and I want so much to tell them to forget about their preferences and think about the bigger picture, like the Orca whales and the survival of the planet, but I never actually tell them.

Dangerous chemicals are destroying our waterways and oceans. Decades are passing by, as millions of washers, sinks, showers, and toilet drains are continually dumping volumes of life-altering chemicals into the very water we drink.

Even when we learned of the multi legged, dual-sexed frogs appearing in the US some 20-plus years ago, due to dangerous chemicals, and in more recent years about the disappearance of shellfish on the California coast due to chemical fragrances affecting their immune systems, we continue to use them, saturating the environment.

Being sensitive to chemical scents limits where I go; I must always pay attention to my exit route upon entering a building. I have avoided many stores, restaurants, movie theatres, and other public places for years, as people are so heavily scented with industrial chemicals in their clothes or on their bodies, making it too difficult to attempt.

People often say to me, "You look so healthy and fit." On a few occasions I have had people I know, even close friends, ask: "Do you think it you tried you could work your mind around it, and not let it bother you?" Once, when I told a bank teller that I was chemically sensitive to her fragrance, as I was losing my voice, it was crackling; and she responded with: "I'm sorry you have an allergy." I tried to briefly explain that it was not an allergy but a reaction to a toxic chemical in her fragrance; she replied that she had the right to wear her "perfume of choice."

People who are not chemically sensitive have no real idea of the daily challenges that I face to avoid toxic chemical exposure, just to live, to breathe, to exist among them.

Our humanity has evolved strangely: breathing, eating, drinking, wearing, implanting dangerous chemicals, including plasticizers such as phthalates, the horrifying neuroendocrine disrupters that now are defining our newer multisex species, animals and humans alike. According to worldwide studies in 30 countries over the last 20 years, we have had an increase of 200% in the feminization of males.

I was always puzzled how women and men felt at ease, even stimulated, over silicone for (elective) implants. When I was in filtration and separation product sales, I recall learning that xylene was a key component in making the silicone body parts.

Has humanity evolved to embracing, even enjoying, and defending the use of these toxic chemicals? Do we even comprehend that we are polluting our own nests?

The existence of our oceans, all life in them, life on this planet, and the planet itself command our full and immediate attention to this serious chemical pollution problem.

What I've come to know is that the more exposures I have, the more sensitive I have become. If being sensitive to chemicals can happen to me, it can happen to you, it can happen to your children, and to anyone you may know. And becoming chemically sensitive will not just affect where you live and work but every other aspect of your life. You may possibly be just one exposure away from turning the corner and becoming chemically sensitive like me.

People must pay attention to their actions - be in the moment with all that they do. And everyone should investigate and learn everything they can about the chemicals in their daily use. And just stop using dangerous chemicals. We have choices.

We do not need to buy unsafe products, as safe alternatives are available for us. Multiple chemical sensitivity has exceeded diabetes in this country; just how many canaries do you need? When we purchase unsafe products with dangerous toxic chemicals, we are encouraging the continued production and distribution of these products.

Our actions will create a reaction. You, me, we are the change! Let the change begin!
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.