Sense and Sensitivities

March 19th, 2006

To the Editor,

The article on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity noted how individuals are often affected adversely by chemicals, yet rarely know the single exposure that pushed them over the edge into an overtly reactive state. We do know that approximately 12 to 16 percent of the population considers themselves to react poorly to chemicals while around 6 percent have been diagnosed with this disorder.

With the help of toxicological testing, I was able to determine what poisoned me and why I became brain damaged and chronically ill from exposures to pesticides. This does not have to be a mystery and the terrible truth is that we are not talking about a few persons ‘sensitive’ to very low levels of toxic substances. In fact, we are generally exposed to midrange and high levels of poisons in combinations which do not act predictably.

I recently fled an apartment I rented in Western Massachusetts. After two days, my reactions were very severe including weakness, tremor, nausea, headache, body pain and bleeding from the nose and rectum. Blood testing showed a suppression of an enzyme crucial to the central nervous system called acetylcholinesterase. Such effects are known for certain pesticides. I next checked the air quality of the house by having a newly purchased air purifier filter run for several days before shipping it to a laboratory for analysis of trapped air particles. The lab testing showed this fairly new house was contaminated with significant amounts of pesticides banned decades ago, including chlordane. The house must have been built upon land formerly used for agriculture. Traces were also present for lawn chemicals in current use in that neighborhood. People do not get to choose the contents of the air in one’s home. The neighbors have a huge say in the matter as well…

Yes, the effects were devastating upon my system, already impaired from overexposure to pesticides in work/home environments. However, no one needs to be exposed to such toxicants since they reduce everyone’s store of protective substances, creating a host of unecessary stresses upon our bodies. We are only designed to cope with naturally occuring toxins created via normal homeostasis, e.g. resulting from breathing, digestion, excercise etc. Instead, our bodies have been co-opted to serve as miniature waste treatment plants aiding industry instead of our own anti-aging capacities. This results in premature aging and disease for causes which remain unknown to patients and their doctors unless they are educated in toxicology.

In another residence in NYC, I had experienced severe asthma. My air quality analysis revealed hugely elevated levels of petroleum hydrocarbons from a furnace which was working very inefficiently. The chemist at the lab said such levels were typically found outdoors on major highways! Petroleum fumes are known to be harmful to all persons and my breathing was much improved outside of that setting. Keeping a diary of one’s symptoms such as migraines, asthma attacks, indigestion symptoms etc., can help patients learn whether or not symptoms are situational and therefore, avoidable.

We have to stop assuming that everything we are exposed to comes in ‘tolerable’ concentrations. Testing will show that pesticides sprayed in an apartment or store below your own living space will accumulate in your residence at surprisingly high levels. Sensitivity or frank poisoning? The difference is generally found in the accurate testing of the situation and affected person. Unfortunately that takes money and an educated physician or patient to accomplish.

But ignorance works well for the industries that produce such products at great personal profit. The taxpayer covers the cost of resulting mortality and morbidity.

The individual suffers needlessly and endlessly.

Barbara Rubin, former educator, disabled by pesticide poisoning

Categories: Grist Magazine

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