Friday, November 22, 2013

School Challenges and Victories

Avoiding chemical toxins is important for people of all ages, but may be especially crucial for children and teenagers, because their brains are still developing and because smaller bodies can detoxify less before becoming overwhelmed. For this reason, schools are an important focus in the battle for cleaner, healthier air.

This is a good news/bad news post focusing on two recent school stories. The first comes from Investigate West and addresses  the dangers of building schools near large roadways and their associated pollutants. The author notes that evidence links proximity to heavily-traveled roads to asthma, lung problems and higher absenteeism among students but that, despite the evidence, policymakers in many locations have ignored clearly-presented risks and continue to build schools where exposure to traffic fumes is high.

At least six states have addressed the placement of school buildings near major traffic sources. California prohibits their construction within 500 feet of freeways under most circumstances and five other states have some sort of similar guidelines. In eight states, building near a major roadway is not prohibited, but school districts are asked to consider the issue.

The article notes that 36 states have no restrictions on building schools near environmental hazards. It also notes that in 2008 and 2009, separate groups of officials meeting in Olympia, Washington and Washington, D.C. considered restricting construction of schools near major roadways, but decided against taking action. An environmental health expert guessed at the reason. He noted, “They didn’t want to open that Pandora’s box. They knew that if they were to put exclusion criteria in there, it would raise these questions about schools already sitting in these hazardous zones, and reasonably so. Parents would say, ’My kids are at risk.’ And then what?”

The second story is a video that comes from a Fox affiliate station in Nashville and addresses cleaning products. The mother of a chemically sensitive child is interviewed and reports that, after four years of trying, she was able to convince her son’s school to replace toxic cleaning products with safer ones. A worker from Whole Foods Market is also interviewed and notes that the demand for safer cleaning products is growing. Finally, a specialist certified with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) talks about the cumulative effects of exposures and how the rates of learning disabilities, autism, asthma, and other conditions have skyrocketed.

Hurray for helpful news stories and for small victories with cleaning products. Boo for inaction on the part of policymakers. Hurray for mothers who work hard to protect their children. Boo for everything that makes it harder for them to do so. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Discovering a Little Respect

There’s so much bad news about everyday toxins and such a lack of understanding of chemical illness that I always like to celebrate the victories. This week, I’m happy to highlight an article published in Discover magazine which describes chemical illness (which they call Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance, or TILT) in a respectful and serious manner. It makes the following points:

  • Sometimes when people get sick after a toxic exposure, their neurological and immune systems remain damaged and they lose tolerance for a wide range of chemicals. People with TILT can become more reactive to chemicals over time.

  • Substances that trigger symptoms are often unrelated structurally and include things like airborn inhalants, foods, drugs, lotions, soaps, detergents, and newsprint. Symptoms can include cardiac and neurological problems, headaches, anxiety, gut issues, asthma, depression, sleep disturbance, and impaired cognitive ability.

  • The wide range of symptoms and triggering substances has often led patients to be labeled as mentally ill.

  • TILT may be driven by epigenetic changes, which occur when an environmental exposure changes genetic expression. “Surprisingly low” doses of certain chemicals can strongly affect gene activity. Once a gene has been switched on and a cell has been reprogrammed, it’s hard for it to go back to its original state.

  • TILT has been documented in many different countries, including nine in Europe, as well as Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia.

  • Because there is no blood-brain barrier in the olfactory system, toxicants can travel straight into the brain from receptors in the nose. Even healthy people demonstrate changes in brain waves during brief exposure to olfactory stimuli that is too low to be consciously perceived.

  • Studies have shown that people with chemical intolerance have greater sensitization of their central nervous system. They also have a decrease in blood flow to specific brain areas when exposed to everyday chemical fumes. A study of Gulf War veterans suffering from TILT found decreased blood flow through the central artery in the brain when they were exposed to acetone.

  • Despite the research, controversy over the condition remains.

The article is definitely much better than most I’ve read about toxic illness. It provides some validation for those of us who suffer from it, and I hope it will also serve as a warning to those who are currently healthy. We aren’t making this stuff up. Chemical illness is a real condition and you really don’t want it. Be careful, friends.