I’ve written before about the fact that people tend to associate toxicity with the presence of a discernible odor. I’m revisiting the issue because I continue to hear chemical illness described as being “allergic to smells.” I understand why people make that assumption, but the description isn’t fully accurate. One part of the inaccuracy is that although allergies can accompany it, chemical illness doesn't usually involve the specific immune reactions seen in traditional allergies. It is instead generally a problem of the body’s detoxification system being overwhelmed or malfunctioning. The second inaccuracy is that not everything with a discernible odor is problematic and many odorless things are.
I’m also revisiting this issue because two recent sad stories drive home the point that toxic fumes don’t always come with an olfactory warning. A few weeks ago the story hit the news of a family of four on a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands. The family was staying in a villa and the unit underneath the one they were renting was sprayed with the pesticide methyl bromide. At the time the story was reported, two weeks after the exposure, the two children were both in a coma and their father was unable to move or talk. The next day I read the account of a father and seven children who died from carbon monoxide poisoning after running a generator inside their home. Like methyl bromide, carbon monoxide is both odorless and potentially lethal.
The fact that our noses can’t always warn us of chemical dangers and that exposure symptoms are not always immediate makes it hard for people with toxic illness to know when an environment is potentially problematic. Online friend and fellow blogger Deb (visit her blog at www.greenleafindrought.blogspot.com) experienced that issue this week.
Deb moved to a new state about a year ago and has been very blessed to find a church that removed air fresheners and changed their cleaning products so that she could attend. She’s even been able to attend a care group, in the home of a family who lives a generally toxin-free life.
The family has a teenage son, and this past week, the son and a friend were getting ready for prom. The friend used cologne in a powder room near the area where the care group normally meets. The homeowner noticed the odor in the room two hours before the group was to meet and took action, wiping down all surfaces with vinegar, turning on exhaust fans, and opening windows. To be extra safe, the group decided to meet in a room farther from the location where the cologne was used, and Deb was seated between the open back door and an open window.
Deb reports that she didn’t smell anything during her time in the home. However, she states, “Less than half hour after getting home every bone and muscle and fiber in my body hurt . . . . I also had dizziness, migraine and loud ringing ears. The pain was excruciating all night.” She adds, “Obviously the chemical poison was there even if I could not smell it.”
I’m sure every toxic illness sufferer has a similar story. How do we avoid such situations? We need your help, and helping us helps everyone. My vote is for stronger regulations about what can be sold and greater discernment on the part of consumers about what we buy and use. Let’s try that.