No safe haven; people with multiple chemical sensitivity are becoming the new homeless.
Though it's only recently begun to make headlines, multiple chemical sensitivity multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), adverse physical reaction to certain chemicals in susceptible persons. When exposed to the chemicals, people with MCS react with symptoms such as nausea, headache, dizziness, fatigue, impaired memory, rash, and respiratory (MCS) is not new: People have been reporting its symptoms on an increasing arc for the last 50 years, as our society has become more and more artificial. Between 1940 and 1980, the manufacture of synthetic organic chemicals increased from less than 10 billion pounds per year to more than 350 billion. In some ways, MCS is an allergy to modern life--a physical reaction to the common chemicals, ranging from detergents, pesticides, solvents and perfumes to foods and pharmaceuticals, that permeate our everyday existence. And less than one percent of the 1,000 new chemicals added each year have been federally tested for toxicity. No longer rare, MCS affects as much as 30 percent of Americans, with symptoms that range from the mild (headaches, fatigue) to the severe (chest pains, depression, shortness of breath Shortness of Breath Definition
Shortness of breath, or dyspnea, is a feeling of difficult or labored breathing that is out of proportion to the patient's level of physical activity. ). Despite its growing ubiquity, however, MCS is rarely taken seriously. As Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly explains it, "Because MCS does not fit any of the three currently-accepted mechanisms of disease infectious, immune system immune system
Cells, cell products, organs, and structures of the body involved in the detection and destruction of foreign invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. Immunity is based on the system's ability to launch a defense against such invaders. , or cancer traditional medicine has not known how to explain MCS, and so has often labeled it `psychogenic'--originating in the patient's mind. This has left MCS sufferers in limbo. Told they are crazy, or imagining their disease, or making it up, they find themselves passed from physician to physician without any satisfactory answers and often without relief from their very real distress."
This photo essay is part of a long-term project by Rhonda Zwillinger, an artist who is herself an MCS sufferer. The story she tells is her story, too. "In 1991, at the age of 41, I developed a crippling case of MCS that forced me to leave my son, my career and my home in New York City New York City: see New York, city.
New York City
City (pop., 2000: 8,008,278), southeastern New York, at the mouth of the Hudson River. The largest city in the U.S. ," Zwillinger says.
"I decided that I had to live in a place that had clean air, eat organically grown foods and wear clothes made from natural fibers," she continues. "I saw an ad in one of the many MCS newsletters for a MCS rental house in Tucson, Arizona Tucson (pronounced /ˈtusɑn/, Spanish: Tucsón [tuk'son] . In 1993, I moved there, because the Southwest had a reputation as a `healing haven.'
"My book, The Dispossessed: Living With Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, is a compilation of photos and personal stories of people who have relocated to the Southwest because of MCS. Some 80 percent of MCS sufferers in the region are basically homeless, living nomadic See nomadic computing. lives in stripped-down mobile homes, old RVs, used cars, made-to-order tents, lean-tos and shelters. Unable to interact with society, many lose their jobs, homes, careers, marriages, families and friends, or even commit suicide Verb 1. commit suicide - kill oneself; "the terminally ill patient committed suicide"
kill - cause to die; put to death, usually intentionally or knowingly; "This man killed several people when he tried to rob a bank"; "The farmer killed a pig for the holidays" , as a result of the profound physical pain and isolation. Often, the only link to the outside world is the telephone.
Throughout the Southwest, a few MCS communities have informally organized. An MCS sufferer finds an environmentally `safe' area, buys a piece of land and puts down a mobile home or buys a house. Others then come to stay short- or long-term, bringing their own shelters. These communities are always in flux, as MCS is an illness of progressive degradation that affects multiple organ systems. A resident who develops allergies to the surrounding vegetation, or is affected by encroaching development, again becomes nomadic, looking for Looking for
In the context of general equities, this describing a buy interest in which a dealer is asked to offer stock, often involving a capital commitment. Antithesis of in touch with. a more tolerable location.
"In the fall of 1994, I bought five acres of land in an isolated area of northern Arizona and built a 450-square-foot environmentally `safe' house to my specifications. I chose more land and a smaller house for protection from neighbors' laundry smells, wood-burning stoves, barbecues, pesticides and automotive fumes fumes
odorous gases and other volatile materials; inhalation of irritating fumes causes coughing and, if sufficiently severe, irreversible pulmonary edema. . But five acres is not enough protection. Often I have to close myself inside my house and turn on the air purifier until it is safe for me to return outside."
Karen T. (born 1957), Dewey, Arizona: "I was born in Idaho, the middle child of three. I grew up on a farm and had no health problems until my late teens, when I started to experience allergic reactions to everyday chemicals and to foods. I attended the University of Oregon The University of Oregon is a public university located in Eugene, Oregon. The university was founded in 1876, graduating its first class two years later. The University of Oregon is one of 60 members of the Association of American Universities. , but was too ill from the indoor building chemicals to continue. For a time, I worked as a secretary-bookkeeper and did fine until the office was remodeled with new carpets and furniture. Recently, I left Oregon and my husband of 13 years to come to Arizona to try to heal. I wanted to get away from the wood and grass burnings, the lumber mills, mold, and my cedar house, all of which aggravated my chemical sensitivities and caused me to weigh just 80 pounds at five-foot seven. I now live in a porcelain trailer and am in the process of divorcing my husband, who refused to leave Oregon to be with me. He made me feel ashamed of the severity of my illness. I was afraid of being thought weird, so I hid and friends."
Bonnie B. (born 1956) and Danielle Sedona, Arizona: "My husband, Rabbi Billy, and our two daughters, Margie and Danielle, are pictured here on our bed placed in the kitchen of our rental house. I became ill from renovation materials when we lived in Vermont. We have moved from house to house around Arizona since Danielle was six months old, as we can not find a house I can tolerate. I slept in the kitchen or outside when weather permitted until the neighbors in the cul-de-sac began to spray pesticides. The house became contaminated contaminated,
v 1. made radioactive by the addition of small quantities of radioactive material.
2. made contaminated by adding infective or radiographic materials.
3. an infective surface or object. , as did all our possessions. Now Danielle (who is also chemically sensitive) and I sleep in our car, which we park at the end of the street. "My husband has placed us under the traditional tallis, a flimsy shelter which symbolizes that home is not blocks of mortar, walls or beams, but the spiritual strength, faith and closeness of a couple that makes a home a home. Billy recites from the Torah: `Spread over us the shelter of your peace.'"
Catherine R. (born 1947), RN, Dewey, Arizona: "I lived a privileged life before becoming ill with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. My father was a three-star general, and as a child I lived in wonderful, interesting places. I became a nurse and supported my husband through medical school. When he became successful, we started our family and had three sons. I drove a Mercedes and lived in a big, expensive new house. In 1981, I became severely ill with MCS from exposure to DDT DDT or 2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl)-1,1,1,-trichloroethane, chlorinated hydrocarbon compound used as an insecticide. First introduced during the 1940s, it killed insects that spread disease and feed on crops. sprayed on the army base when I was a child, new furniture and the materials used in my home, capped teeth and breast implants Breast Implants Definition
Breast implantation is a surgical procedure for enlarging the breast. Breast-shaped sacks made of a silicone outer shell and filled with silicone gel or saline (salt water), called implants, are used. . I moved to Arizona trying to find a place with cleaner air than Denver, Colorado, where I had been living. After looking at almost 200 trailers, I bought this steel utility trailer with a camper shell to have shelter from the summer monsoons and winter snows. Although I do not see my three sons, I talk to them regularly on the telephone."
Christie B. (born 1967), Patti, den, Arizona: "My husband, John, and I are homeless and are sleeping in our van, which is parked on five acres belonging to another MCS sufferer. We use the metal shed as a kitchen, a bathroom (portable potty), an office, and have fashioned a makeshift shower outdoors. My husband, a physical therapist, spends his days off renovating an old RV so we can have a place to live that is insulated from the elements and has indoor plumbing. It will have porcelain-on-aluminum walls, floors and ceilings, which I can tolerate. John works long hours in his job to pay for the extra costs that my illness incurs--like expensive medical treatments, organic foods, special vitamins, organic cotton bedding and clothing, a special vacuum cleaner and expensive room air purifiers. We had to flee Chapel Hill, North Carolina Chapel Hill is a town in North Carolina and the home of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), the oldest state-supported university in the United States. As of the 2000 census, it had a population of 48,715. As of 2004 its estimated population was 52,440. because the mold and MtBE fuels made me desperately ill."
Ann B. (born 1934), Tucson, Arizona: "I am a wife, mother of three. and grandmother of eight. I worked in a bank in Tennessee for over 20 years. I was poisened by the toluene toluene (tōl`yēn') or methylbenzene (mĕth'əlbĕn`zēn), C7H8 in new money, by the car fumes I inhaled as a window teller, by new building chemicals from several bank renovations, and by the pesticides that were routinely sprayed inside the building. I have developed severe food allergies Food Allergies Definition
Food allergies are the body's abnormal responses to harmless foods; the reactions are caused by the immune system's reaction to some food proteins. , and cannot tolerate pesticides in foods. I am literally starving to death. My husband renovated this Airstream for me because I can no longer tolerate the family home. He moves me from place to place to try to find an area that I can tolerate. It is hard for my husband and I to be separated after 41 years of marriage. He cannot retire because we need the money for `out-of-pocket' medical costs and for our travel expenses."
Karen A. (born 1949), Nat and Sam (born 1974), Tucson, Arizona: "We have lived in the van pictured here for over two years. As a child, I became sick from mercury amalgam fillings, from chlorinated chlorinated /chlo·ri·nat·ed/ (klor´i-nat?ed) treated or charged with chlorine.
charged with chlorine.
some, e.g. water, from cortisone cortisone (kôr`tĭsōn'), steroid hormone whose main physiological effect is on carbohydrate metabolism. It is synthesized from cholesterol in the outer layer, or cortex, of the adrenal gland under the stimulation of adrenocorticotropic prescribed for rashes, and from pesticide exposure in my childhood home. As an adolescent, I felt depressed and nervous and had to quit school. When my twins, Nat and Sam, were babies, they developed food allergies and asthma, and could only eat organic foods. By the end of each school year, the boys got sick and worn down by the pesticides and cleaning chemicals used in their school. They finally had to quit high school a few credits short of graduating. We left northern California for a less moldy moldy
animal feed overgrown with fungus; the feed may be harvested and stored or be still in the ground.
moldy corn disease
see leukoencephalomalacia, fusariummoniliforme. , drier climate. We would love to settle down, as moving around is hectic and it is heartbreaking to leave people behind. We want to rent a `safe' place to live, but there is no `safe' housing for those disabled with MCS."
Nina Z. (born 1949), Santa Fe, New Mexico Santa Fe, more properly Santa Fé, (pronounced [ˈsænə feɪ] by natives, [ˌsænə ˈfeɪ] : "I have been living in my van for three years. Homelessness is expensive. There is no place to cook and no place to rest (which has made me sicker). I have become more reactive, and am in physical pain most of the time. I can't go to places I used to be able to go doctor's offices, friends' houses and psychology conferences.
"I earned a substantial income before becoming sick. I lived in northern California, where I earned a master's degree in psychology. I worked 3,000 hours to qualify for a Marriage, Family and Child Counseling license. I worked simultaneously at a psychiatric hospital psychiatric hospital
A hospital for the care and treatment of patients affected with acute or chronic mental illness. Also called mental hospital. and as a medical social worker with terminally ill Terminally Ill
When a person is not expected to live more than 12 months.
Any gifts given out by the afflicted person at this time may be considered as a dispersion of the estate rather than a gift. patients who required kidney dialysis Dialysis, Kidney Definition
Dialysis treatment replaces the function of the kidneys, which normally serve as the body's natural filtration system. . While working with the dialysis patients, I was exposed to the chemicals that disinfect To remove the virus code that has attached itself to a legitimate file. Sometimes, the antivirus program cannot untangle the code, and the infected file has to be deleted. See quarantine. the dialysis machines. My office was next to a toxic chemical holding tank for glacial acetic acid glacial acetic acid
Acetic acid that is at least 99.8 percent pure. , sodium meta-bisulfite and formaldehyde. I began to feel sleepy, irritable, disoriented dis·o·ri·ent
tr.v. dis·o·ri·ent·ed, dis·o·ri·ent·ing, dis·o·ri·ents
To cause (a person, for example) to experience disorientation.
Adj. 1. , had eye infections, sore throats, bronchitis, suffered from insomnia and had severe pains in my hands and feet. In six months I became totally nonfunctional. As a trained psychologist, I viewed my symptoms as psychological. Luckily, I found a doctor who told me that my condition was not emotional. I had been chemically poisoned. It has become my passion to work to create a homeless `shelter' accessible to those with MCS."
Patrice (born 1953), RN, Cedar Crest, New Mexico Cedar Crest is a census-designated place (CDP) in Bernalillo County, New Mexico, United States. The population was 1,060 at the 2000 census. Geography
Cedar Crest is located at (35.107145, -106. : "I worked as a registered nurse at a treatment center for chemically-dependent teenagers in Minnesota. The hospital was remodeled with new carpeting, wallpaper and paint during the winter when it was dosed up tight. The windows were painted shut and maintenance materials were stored there. Each day I felt sicker. I developed digestive problems, fatigue, dizziness, muscle weakness and joint stiffness. My left arm and the left side of my face became numb--I had a heart attack at 28, though I never had any history of heart disease. After my heart attack, I went to a clinic in Mexico to recuperate re·cu·per·ate
To return to health or strength; recover. , but I had already been severely chemically injured with MCS. I could no longer think well, I was unable to read, I suffered from irregular heartbeat and my throat constricted con·strict
v. con·strict·ed, con·strict·ing, con·stricts
1. To make smaller or narrower by binding or squeezing.
2. To squeeze or compress.
3. , which made it difficult to breathe. After my stay at the clinic, I returned to Minnesota but could no longer tolerate being indoors, especially in the winter when the heating systems were on. I spent a couple of winters freezing on friends' screened-in porches. When I overstayed my welcome, I rented an apartment so I could have a bathroom to use and sleep in my tent outside. This was the beginning of my nomadic life. I have traveled south to live near the beaches until springtime, and then traveled up the east coast as far as Maine. I still live in my tent, which is installed in the backyard of my rented house."
Randy H. (born 1950), Prescott, Arizona: "I live in my car and sleep in the front seat. I have traveled around Arizona, Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado and Texas, trying to find `safe' housing. I used to be a bus driver in Orange County, California Orange County is a county in Southern California, United States. Its county seat is Santa Ana. According to the 2000 Census, its population was 2,846,289, making it the second most populous county in the state of California, and the fifth most populous in the United States. . The buses I drove had fault? ventilation systems that sucked the bus exhaust back inside. The interior of the buses were routinely sprayed with a kerosene-based pesticide which, when outlawed, was replaced by Dursban. I began to suffer from digestive problems, heart palpitations, respiratory-sinus problems and numbness of the face and extremities. I organized a petition of over 400 signatures of my co-workers to protest the unsafe working conditions. The Los Angeles Times Los Angeles Times
Morning daily newspaper. Established in 1881, it was purchased and incorporated in 1884 by Harrison Gray Otis (1837–1917) under The Times-Mirror Co. (the hyphen was later dropped from the name). covered the story, as did a local TV station. Approximately five to 10 percent of the bus drivers were chemically injured with MCS. I also think some passengers were made sick by the chemicals used on the buses."
Tom P. (born 1950), Tucson, Arizona: "I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit. I have a master's in counseling and worked as a counselor in public schools and in private industry. I dabbled dab·ble
v. dab·bled, dab·bling, dab·bles
To splash or spatter with or as if with a liquid: "The moon hung over the harbor dabbling the waves with gold" in real estate and was part-owner or a bar-restaurant in Denver. The real-estate office where I worked was connected to a mall. The smells from new clothing, especially formaldehyde, circulated throughout the office and started to bother me. I got weaker and more sensitive. For many months, I had to sleep in the back of my truck because I could not tolerate being indoors. I finally found this Airstream, but I cannot find a permanent `safe' place to park it."
Mary S. (born and Kitt (born 1991), Tucson, Arizona: "I grew up on a ranch in Tucson. My hobby used to be body building. I decided to have silicone breast implants, but shortly afterwards began to feel sick and weak. The many doctors I visited told me there was no scientific evidence to indicate that it was the breast implants that were making me sick, and told me to go ahead and nurse my baby. Baby Kilt kilt
Knee-length, skirtlike garment worn by men as part of the traditional national garb, or Highland dress, of Scotland. It is made of permanently pleated wool and wrapped around the wearer's waist so that the pleats are in the back and the flat ends overlap in front. vomited after he was nursed and was sick all the time. By the time I finally convinced a doctor to remove the implants, Kitt and I were severely injured with MCS and had to move to the desert, living in this homemade tent. I cannot tolerate building materials, electricity or pesticides. The desert where Baby Kitt and I live will soon be leveled for a golf course, making us homeless."
Rhonda Zwillinger's photo exhibit. "The Dispossessed," was displayed last year at The Phoenix Gallery in New York City. The book, with interviews by the author, is available for $18 postpaid from: The Dispossessed Project, PO Box 402, Paulden, AZ 86334-0402.