Have you ever wondered if your home or workplace may be making you sick or adversely affecting your health? Do you have trouble sleeping at night or do you suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome? With this issue, we introduce a monthly column to discuss the impact of environmental factors on your health and focus on what you can do to make your home or workplace healthier. This article is a brief introduction to the topic. Each month we will discuss a particular aspect of this issue in more detail.
Human Canaries – Universal Reactors
One of coal mining’s earliest environmental warning systems was the use of a caged canary. These birds have a highly sensitive metabolism; if the bird died, the miners needed to immediately leave the mine. Today, certain people are extremely sensitive to environmental factors. Their bodies function as an early warning system pointing to larger health issues that may impact all people.
Environmental illnesses are a group of chronic modern conditions that are sometimes referred to as ‘20th century syndrome,’ ‘universal allergy,’ ‘chronic neuro-immune disorders’ or ‘functional somatic disorders.’ These environmental illnesses represent a unique and not well understood set of diseases in which environmental triggers play a significant role in producing the symptoms and the illness itself. People suffering from environmental illnesses may have allergies, may be sensitive to certain chemicals or molds as in multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), and/or may be sensitive to the effects of electro-magnetic fields (EMFs).
Some people suffer from ‘sick building syndrome’, because they cannot live, work or function in certain enclosed environments without becoming ill. One of the debilitating effects of this illness is that certain people become sensitive to almost everything in their environment: pollen, mold, animal dander, perfumes, cleaning products, cosmetics, and a large number of common foods. These individuals are often referred to as ‘universal reactors’ because their bodies react to so many environmental triggers. As with the canary, the illnesses suffered by a few represent a potential health alert for the rest of us. As some suggest, we may all suffer from these debilitating side effects in various degrees as our environment becomes more and more toxic.
Linking the Quality of Health
to Environmental Factors
This concept of environmental illness is only now becoming understood and accepted. The general public and health care professionals are beginning to learn about the ways in which our building practices, the use of standard cleaning products and personal hygiene practices may have unhealthy and debilitating side effects. Knowledge exists on what these unhealthy effects can be, and about what alternatives we can choose to mitigate the effects on our personal health.
Your home is filled with electro-magnetic fields (EMFs) that have a subtle but powerful influence on your energy levels and the depth of your sleep at night. Not only magnetic fields, but electric fields, coming from plastic power cords as well as the plastic covered wires in your walls, can keep you awake at night and prevent the natural production of melatonin by the pineal gland in the wee hours of each morning. This negatively impacts ‘stage four’ sleep. The body must have time for a deeper ‘stage four’ sleep to maintain its health and assist in recovery from chronic illness.
Sick Building Syndrome and Its Disabling Health Effects
Those living with disabilities, one of which is environmental illness, expend much energy in dealing with the activities of daily living. Why burden yourself further with the insidious and debilitating effects from exposure to toxic products, materials and EMFs in your home and work space? Below are some questions for you to consider.
How does a building make you sick? What are the chemical and electro-magnetic influences that are unseen but harmful? How can these be identified and remediated? How does mold develop and what can you do to eliminate and prevent it? What types of cleaning products are harmful to your health?
How does an environmental sensitivity manifest itself in the body? What makes a person chemically or electrically sensitive? How do people cope with it? How does it affect family members and caregivers? What strategies work to reduce the sensitivity and help these people lead a healthier life? What are the specific ways this syndrome affects people with disabilities?
Promoting Education and Action
A group comprised of architects, realtors, engineers, environmental consultants, health care practitioners, educators, and others has created the Environmentally Safe Housing Initiative (ESHI). It is a member group of the non-profit organization, Third Way Network. ESHI members – many of whom have environmental sensitivities – are all dedicated to solving the shortfall in affordable housing, particularly for the environmentally sensitive. We have two goals: (1) create environmentally safe housing; and, (2) educate and engage others about what they can do to create and maintain environmentally safe housing. To find out more about this initiative, visit www.thirdwaynetwork.org, select “Local Groups” and click on “Environmental Safe Housing Initiative.”
In future articles, we will address these questions drawing from our personal and professional experiences. In addition, we can introduce practical steps and products you can use to promote an environmentally safe home. We will emphasize prevention, minimization, and detoxification. We will also describe ways to make offices and workplaces more environmentally safe. Finally, we will explore and discuss public policy and health issues and share practical visions.
We also invite you to e-mail us to share topics or stories that are important to you. If you have an interest in becoming more involved in helping us accomplish our goals, we invite you to attend our next meeting on Tuesday, January 17 at Third Way Network at 2912 Fremont Ave. N., Minneapolis. Our group gathers for a potluck from 6-7:00 pm and holds the meeting from 7-8:30 pm.
Oram Miller is a certified Building Biology Environmental Inspector who is a member of the Environmentally Safe Housing Initiative. He can be reached at 952-412-0781 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Oram and other members of the Environmentally Safe Housing Initiative group work with Paul Halvorson, Ph.D., Director of the Third Way Network. Readers can contact Paul at 612-332-1311 x 22 or by e-mail: Halvorson Paul@ThirdWayNetwork.org