Re: Chemical sensitivities
From: Mary English (
Date: Mon, 1 Aug 2005 17:30:29 -0700 (PDT)
Here at Wasatch Cohousing I tried to initiate a discussion about
chemical sensitivity.  I have severe asthma triggered by aerosolized
chemicals, as well as things like cigarette smoke, some soaps and some
perfumes.  On top of that, I have a cardiac arrhythmia that can be
triggered by taking the large amounts of albuterol I need to control the
asthma, and that means still getting hauled to the emergency room, even
if I can get the asthma attack under control. 
The group agreed to not allow cigarette smoking in the common house,
but insisted that people can burn incense and scented candles in the
common house.  
Then they also complained loudly that I would not come and sit in the
room with everyone for meetings. (I would sit outside in the door. In
the winter I also got complaints about the cold draft as I huddled next
to the open crack in a coat and blankets.) I also heard criticism that I
was not coming for meals.  A little hard to join a discussion or enjoy
food when you can't breath. One member suggested I get a gas mask to
wear so they would not be inconvenienced.
I'm not the only one in the group with asthma.  Several families have
children with asthma, one of whom  ends up regularly in the ER.
Let me give you some statistics:
10% of the adult population  is diagnosed with asthma, 21.9 million
people. And 12 1/2% of children have been diagnosed with it, 9.1
million. That's 30 million total.  Asthma treatment costs $14 billion a
year (yes that is a B as in billion.)  It is responsible for 14.7
million missed school days a year (that's  1/4 of all missed school
days), and 11.8 million missed work days a year. And almost 5,000 people
die of asthma a year in the US. And the numbers are growing every year,
a spiraling epidemic.
And don't think that because you don't have it now, that you will not
get it. I was in my late 40s when my asthma started. I had to give up
folk dancing. I now shop in the middle of the night when the stores are
empty. Go to the movies at 10 AM when they are nearly empty, or rent
VCRs.  And forget going to a ballet or opera.  To fly, I start high dose
steroids several days before getting on a plane, explain to the
stewardess and show her where my medicines are, in case. And of course,
there are the unforgettable minutes in ER listening to the oxygen
oximiter screaming while the respiratory therapist scurries around, and
the intern is eagerly hovering in the door hoping to get a chance to
intubate you.
So, only a few years back, I was just like you, leading a carefree
unconcerned life; able to go where I wanted, when I wanted, happily
dabbing on perfume, and using scented bath oil. 
Is it worth planning for people with multiple chemical sensitivities,
and asthma?  Definitely.  Look at the statistics. It may even be your
future that you are planning for. I suspect Lyn was right when she said
we are the canaries in the coal mine. It just took less exposure for us,
then for the other 90% of the population.

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