Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Misinformation Campaign

Many illnesses are misunderstood. People with MCS often have more than ignorance to fight, however. Some large and powerful corporations have reasons to make sure that chemical sensitivity isn't accepted as a valid condition and that chemical safety isn't called into question.

Dr. Ann McCampbell has written an excellent analysis of the situation entitled Multiple Chemical Sensitivities under Siege. I recommend it, not only for people curious about MCS, but for anyone interested in how public opinion about medical issues may be shaped. McCampbell details the activities of chemical manufacturers and the pharmaceutical industry. (Oddly, many drug manufacturers also make pesticides.)  She writes about non-profit organizations with benign-sounding names and notes that the activities of one of them include the following:

  • publishing newspaper advertisements made to look like legitimate news stories stating that MCS “exists only because a patient believes it does and because a doctor validates that belief”  

  • paying a medical journal to publish the proceedings of an anti-MCS conference which was partly organized by a firm owned by their executive director

  • sending anti-MCS literature to a state disability agency developing a report on MCS which included advice on how to avoid accommodating chemically sensitive employees

  • sending a representative to a Medicaid Advisory Committee meeting to urge that Medicaid benefits be denied for the diagnosis and treatment of chemical sensitivities

  • providing a representative to speak against MCS at a continuing medical education (CME) conference for physicians where he failed to disclose his industry affiliations as required by CME guidelines

  • sending a member to speak to the staff at an independent living center where he berated them for providing a support group for people with MCS.

In Isaiah 1:17, God instructs His people to defend the oppressed. There are people all over the world today being oppressed in significant, obvious, and life-altering ways. There may also, however, be less obvious forms of oppression occurring right before our eyes. In the realm of MCS, there is a great deal of very real suffering that is being caused by those with power, resources, and vested interests. Those who suffer from MCS need healthy advocates and defenders. Will you be one?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fragrance Free Church Services

Although the issue of chemical contamination still isn't widely understood by the church in general, some congregations are making efforts to become less toxic and to accommodate their more chemically sensitive members. Churches approach the issue in different ways. Synthetic fragrances are often the chemicals that are most noticeable in the average church and to which the largest number of people recognize their own reactions. Because of that, some churches begin addressing the chemical toxicity issue by designating a fragrance-free area of the sanctuary. This isn't a perfect solution, but if the room is large enough and there is adequate ventilation, it can be enough accommodation for those with mild sensitivities. An article by the Catholic News Service highlights a Seattle church that took that approach.

Churches with multiple services sometimes designate one service as fragrance free. This works best if the fragrance-free service is held before the "regular" service is. If the order is reversed, chemicals from perfumed church members may still be present in large enough quantities to cause some people problems.

Other congregations strive to be fragrance free at all times. Some churches put notices in their bulletins or on their websites asking people to refrain from wearing perfume to church. An Oregon church does so and recently highlighted the issue in their newsletter.

A more comprehensive approach is to provide those who need it with a "safe room" which is separate from the rest of the congregation. These rooms are often similar to "cry rooms" designed for parents of small children. Ideally, these rooms should have an air supply that's separate from the rest of the church building and should be accessed through an outdoor entrance.

All approaches have their limitations, but all are positive steps to address the problem of chemical toxicity in the church. Any step to address the issue will be greatly appreciated by those who are chemically sensitive and may allow some people to attend church who would otherwise be shut out. Do we want people to be able to attend church if they wish?  If so, we need to take this issue seriously.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Carpet Concerns

Since I've recently written about vinyl flooring, it seems appropriate to give equal time to some of the negative health effects associated with carpeting. Although some carpets are more problematic than others, none are a truly healthy flooring choice. Carpets have one set of problems when they're new and another set of problems when they've been around a while.

Most of the problems associated with new carpets are related to the chemicals used to manufacture them. In the book Staying Well in a Toxic World, author Lynn Lawson reports on an immunologist who was told by a major carpet manufacturer that there were “at least a thousand” chemicals used in synthetic carpeting. The padding and adhesives can also be sources of toxic emissions.

Carpet chemicals can cause a wide range of health problems. An article in the Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients entitled Carpet Politics and Alternatives reported on studies in which a toxicologist exposed mice to carpet samples. The mice suffered neuromuscular, pulmonary, and sensory effects, and many of them died. Autopsies showed that the liver, brain, and kidneys had been affected.

Carpet manufacturers claim that their products have become less toxic since that time. Unfortunately, however, even if a truly non-toxic carpet were to be manufactured, it wouldn't remain that way for long once it was in use. Carpets act like a sponge, absorbing pollutants from the environment. An article reporting on tests of home carpeting noted that environmental engineer John Roberts found carpet dust to contain high levels of pesticides, heavy metals, and many other harmful chemicals. He observed that a typical carpet contains such high levels of toxic chemicals that it would trigger an environmental clean-up if found outdoors. Any cleaning or personal care product used in or brought into a building containing carpet has the potential to settle there and to be re-released when the carpet is disturbed. Easily cleaned flooring made of natural materials like wood, bamboo, or stone is generally the healthiest flooring choice.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Vetoing Vinyl

You may (or may not) have read about a recent study showing that certain chemicals in vinyl flooring are absorbed into the bodies of babies who live in homes that contain it. Many of the chemicals found in the flooring have been banned from children's toys and other products because of their known safety risks.

Most articles reporting on the study note that the chemicals are known to cause asthma and allergies. There are many other associated problems, however, as a 2009 report suggests. A team of U.S. and Swedish researchers found that children who lived in homes with vinyl floors were twice as likely to be diagnosed with autism. One of the study's authors noted that the correlation "turned up virtually by accident."  Although the list of known negative health effects associated with vinyl compounds and other chemicals is large, there are undoubtedly many, many more connections between chemical exposures and health waiting to be accidentally discovered.

Vinyl isn't the only unwise flooring choice. Carpet, in particular, can have many problems of its own. One examination of flooring options, however, notes that vinyl flooring (and vinyl-coated wallpaper) were found to be seven times more likely to contain hazardous additives than other "non-plastic" flooring examined. Safer flooring choices include ceramic and stone tile, real linoleum, cork, hardwood and bamboo.

When building or remodeling, every product choice has an impact on the people who enter the building. An attempt to save money at the time of installation can have huge costs later. Let's value the health of people who enter our churches and homes enough to take the issue seriously.