Wednesday, July 29, 2009

More on pesticides...

My chemically sensitive friend Celia would like to add that eating garlic is a great mosquito repellent for her and her family. Of course, it can be a people repellent too, but maybe that isn't such a bad thing. I have found that taking (and/or eating) plenty of B vitamins also helps.

Also, here's a website for information about pesticides on the food we eat: (a searchable database)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Pesticides, or not?

I've waited almost a week to write this post to give myself time to calm down. One evening last week, I was sitting in my living room watching television at about 9:30 pm when I started coughing and gagging and generally having trouble breathing. As I stood up to get some help, I saw a truck coming down the street spraying something all over the neighborhood. A quick call to the sheriff's office confirmed my suspicion that it was a pesticide coming out of the back of that truck. Twenty-four hours later, after several emails and phone calls, I had a promise from the county and the private contractor that our street would never be sprayed again and that I would be notified if neighboring streets were to be sprayed.

This was a very scary experience. Never, in the eight years we have lived in this house, has this happened. Nor has anyone ever intimated that it COULD happen. Apparently, back in 1976, a mosquito abatement district was established in our area. However, according to the contractor, this is the first time our particular neighborhood has been sprayed, and it was done only because someone called the county and complained about the mosquitoes. I have written a letter to the county commissioners urging them to find better methods of mosquito control than the use of toxic chemicals (malathion, in this case). If they still deem it necessary to spray occasionally, I have urged them to adopt a written policy for notifying residents in advance and for informing them of the content and dangers of the chemical being used.

There are alternative ways to control pesky insects. The most important is to eliminate all standing water (a necessity for mosquito promulgation). There are several plants, such as marigolds and Thai lemon grass, which, when planted in a yard or garden, serve as natural mosquito repellents. Along the same line, there are a number of natural repellent sprays and creams available which are safe and effective for personal use. Staying inside when the bugs are at their worst, usually in the evening, is also a good strategy. And, above all, don't wear anything with a fragrance (which, of course, no one reading this would do anyway, right?).

I know that mosquito-born illnesses are nothing to laugh about. We do have West Nile Virus here in Montana (though the season hasn't started yet this year) and I have a son-in-law who contracted malaria while in Mexico. In some parts of the world, these diseases kill large numbers of people, so mosquito control is essential. However, I see no need to apply a tourniquet when a simple Band Aid will do, or, better yet, an ounce of prevention. In the case of our neighborhood, it all comes back to residents taking personal responsibility for themselves and their own property. Here and now, the dangers presented by the use of chemical sprays are much greater than any potential danger from mosquitoes.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Proposed Labeling Legislation

Last Monday, Representative Steve Israel (D-Long Island) introduced new legislation that would require manufacturers of household products to list all ingredients on the product container or packaging. Representative Israel, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, has entitled this proposed legislation "The Household Product Labeling Act of 2009" (H.R. 3057).

The very day that this legislation was introduced, I went to Costco with a coupon in hand for their new Kirkland Signature Environmentally Friendly Liquid Dish Soap. I was dismayed, when I looked at the soap bottle, that the ingredients were NOT listed. Instead, there was a statement that it contained "natural" surfactants and a clean "natural" fragrance. Since I have no idea how they define "natural," I didn't buy the soap. Instead, I came right home and emailed Costco Customer Service requesting an ingredient list for the product. As of today (a week later), I have not received an answer.

I'm not really hopeful that Rep. Israel's legislation will make it into law, but I do have hope that it will bring added attention to the problem of toxic ingredients in products we use every day. This bill has the financial backing of the Citizens' Campaign for the Environment and the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition. They may be small potatoes next to the chemical industry giants, but I applaud them and Rep. Israel for their gumption. We have to start somewhere.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Back in the Groove

It was good to come home after almost three weeks away. As I walked to the front door I was greeted with the intense aroma of mock orange blossoms. The bushes were just starting to get buds when I left, and I was happy I hadn't missed the full bloom. It's one of the few fragrant flowers I can tolerate, so we planted them outside our bedroom window. Never mind that it's been almost too cool to sleep with the window open the past few nights. I'm happy to add an extra blanket so I can drift off to sleep with a scent that doesn't make me ill.

Exhausted from my trip, I spent the first few days home just trying to catch up on sleep, reading the mail (the snail kind) and enjoying some down time. Finally, today, I awoke with some semblance of energy and desire to get back into the groove of things, back into a routine. But I soon realized that coming home also means climbing back into my hole of social isolation. When I'm in an area with a larger population (which is almost anywhere away from Helena, Montana), there are so many more places to go (like a big farmers' market, an outdoor arts fair, large parks) where I can be with people, yet keep my distance, and be (more or less) safe chemically. These places are interesting and new, unlike the few places I go here (the health food store and Target), which, granted, give me some social interaction, but get pretty boring by the upteenth time I've been there. And granted, all those people in those public outdoor places are strangers. But at least they're people, real live people, not the pretend ones I watch on television or the ones I read about in books.

Then, as I was really feeling sorry for myself this morning, I started going through my other mail (the electronic kind) and catching up on all the blogs I've barely skimmed in the past month. That's when I realized that I do have a social circle, one that goes far beyond the borders of the fourth largest state in the Union. I can't see your faces, but I imagine what you look like, and I can hear your voices in the words that you write. Community is not just a matter of geography, but one of caring and giving and listening and sharing common ground in more ways that the dirt we stand on. So, I'm back. It's good to be home. Thanks for waiting up for me and for leaving the (electronic) light on for me.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


I had a great two weeks with my daughter and her family and the new baby. The day before the baby was born, my mother-in-law fell and broke her femur. It was healing well and she was receiving rehabilitation therapy until a few days ago, when she started having severe pain in that leg. She is back in the hospital now, going through a myriad of tests to determine the source of the pain. And here I am with her, watching her, listening to her, talking to her, helping her navigate the electronic bed, communicating with medical personnel and giving my sister-in-law (her daughter) some badly needed personal time to catch up with her family and her business.

Generally speaking, I go to great lengths to avoid hospitals, both as a patient and as a visitor. Between my chemical sensitivities and my dietary concerns, hospitals just aren’t very hospitable to me. But I have to say, as hospitals go, this mega-medical-complex in the middle of the Salt Lake Valley is not too bad. (Sorry, that’s the closest I can come to an actual complement.)

For one thing, all of the almost 1200 patient rooms are private rooms with views of the mountains. The floors are a light wood-grain laminate and the cabinetry is pine and oak. Artfully framed color photographs of Southern Utah’s redrock country adorn the walls of rooms and hallways, and with the door closed, it’s almost silent (except for the rhythmic hum of medical equipment, of course).

Being a hospital, cleanliness is of utmost importance, yet the typical antiseptic aroma I had come to expect is strangely absent. When the housekeeping person came in yesterday to mop the floor and clean the bathroom, I asked her what kind of cleaning products were used. She was happy to show me that they are environmentally-friendly and fragrance-free. Then, last night, when I helped my MIL change gowns and get fresh bedding, I was pleased to see that the laundry was also fragrance-free and the bedding is all made of cotton.

All day yesterday a parade of people—nurses, aides, social workers, chaplains—came in and out of the room, and not one of them carried any fragrance along with them. By evening I had forgotten to even be concerned about a chemical reaction, which allowed me to focus on my MIL’s needs, rather than my own.

Then, at 7:30 pm, the night shift nurse walked in to introduce herself. The waft of strong perfume that came with her left me feeling like I had run into a brick wall. All I could do was back away as I gasped for breath. As she gave me a questioning look, I very bluntly told her that I have chemical sensitivities and I could not be in the same room with her because of her strong perfume. I then expressed my surprise that she, a registered nurse, would wear a heavy scent, especially in a facility that I had deemed to be fragrance-free and working with people whose immune systems have already been compromised by injury and illness.

The nurse did not give me a verbal response, but the look on her face was not one I would describe as friendly. My MIL was oblivious, fortunately, and, since I was just preparing to leave for the night anyway, I made a quick and convenient exit. I only hope that if I am still here this evening, the same nurse will not be on duty.

Most hospitals have a public relations person, patient advocate or ombudsman. So one of my goals for today is to find that person’s name so I can send a written letter of concern after we are done here. Of course, I will also register the many positive aspects of our experience, which surely outweigh this one negative. I hope I can be more tactful than I was last night, but still find a way to drive my point home, that this one nurse’s behavior poses a danger to patients (and their visitors) and is so incongruous with the rest of the institution.

Since my experience with hospitals is very limited, I would love any suggestions of how to approach this one.