Providence, RI 02906
Canaries and asthmatics both get sick quickly when they breathe unhealthy air. While the problems of asthmatics are quickly recognizable because they canít breathe, unhealthy air may cause canaries to appear to be normal people exhibiting inappropriate behavior. This testimony covers the known physiology and the social setting behind Canariesí behavior.
It seems suspicious whenever chemical exposures immediately make numbers of people sick at the same precise time, and then these same people stay sick for years. Here are two examples:
ō Michael Eash and his teacher both got sick at school on the same day in New Haven, CT. The school had undergone its monthly Dursban spraying that day. Michael stayed sick. Michael was home-schooled for much of the next seven years and is reportedly almost normal now.
ō Brenda Jones, RN, and her two kids were all three instantly sick after exposure to a normal application of lawn chemicals near their Florida home, and they stayed sick (for two years so far). The chemical atrazine was used on the lawn.
In other cases, massive numbers of people in a particular group gradually become sick, and a single cause for the sickness was present.
ō Hundreds of workers at the EPAís own brand new national headquarters came down with what was called ďsick building syndromeĒ. These workers often have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.
ō 220,000 Gulf War Veterans complained of illnesses to the Veterans Administration. They were said to have ďGulf War SyndromeĒ. These soldiers also often have MCS. 10,000 Gulf War Veterans are now prematurely dead.
We live in a modern pandemic of reactions to chemicals. Asthma, allergies and chemical sensitivity are normal to the human condition, but never were they normal in the quantities seen in this modern generation.
Given this disturbing weight of evidence, the government should restrict the use of chemicals which have been statistically linked to illness, until the chemicals are known to be safe.
I believe that chemically sensitive people should have civil rights.
ō A canary should have the right to go to a hospital or a nursing home without having adverse medical consequences from cleaning chemicals in the hospitalís air, or by heavy perfume worn by a nurse. Safer cleaning chemicals exist. Previous generations of nurses all knew better than to wear perfume around asthmatic patients. This generation of nurses needs to be taught not to do so.
ō A canary should have the right to go to a public bathroom without being assaulted by bathroom fragrances. No class of disabled persons should be denied a bathroom.
ō A canary should have the right to go to a church, synagogue, mosque, temple or meetinghouse, the right to worship God, the right to belong to a community of worshippers, without the chemical solvents in the next worshipperís perfume, cologne or body scent putting her flat on her back for a week.
Neighbors should protect their neighborsí kids from poisoning, out of a sense of both community responsibility and ethical caring. ďLove your neighbor as yourselfĒ is a Biblical commandment. I encourage churches and congregations to act in selfless love, and not to cast aside or wound members of their own communities that they love. Nor should they through thoughtlessness exclude anyone from worship with them. If one member of a community canít breathe the air, then perhaps in solidarity other members of the community shouldnít breathe the air.
Once when my wife wasnít able to be in a workshop due to fresh paint fumes, I went to the workshop but silently wore a paint fume mask through one workshop session. At other times, when my wife couldnít worship with others due to contaminated air in a room, Iíve left worship with her. The air was medically hazardous for a number of people, so in my view no one should worship while breathing that air, even those that could be there. God demands that we be a community that doesnít throw away those members who are weaker than ourselves. The toxics in the air might also prematurely end the lives of any of the worship communityís members, including its children.
ō A canary should have the right to use a public airline without getting poisoned on the plane or sickened in the airport terminal. People who were allergic to cigarette smoke once had no right to breathe on an airplane, but then the government made smokers move to the backs of the planes. This accommodation would work for chemically sensitive people. The privileges of fumers should now be weighed against the medical needs of asthmatics and canaries.
ō Canaries and asthmatics should have the right not to be physically assaulted with chemicals, nor to have a credible threat of assault. An angry man once threatened to spray my wife Liberty Goodwin in the face with his finger on the nozzle of a can of air freshener. He backed her out of a door with what essentially was a dangerous weapon pointed at her. Itís possible that the perpetrator didnít believe his weapon would actually do medical damage, but he at least knew that my wife was as afraid of the wielded weapon as she would be of, say, a knife.
ō A canary should have the right not to be poisoned out of a job by a co-worker or co-workers, in cases where a department budget is shrinking and the co-workers stand to gain financially by hanging on to their own jobs.
ō An asthmatic or a canary should have the right to enter a polling place to vote without adverse medical consequences. An asthmatic or a canary should be able to attend any government hearing. Government offices should accommodate all classes of the disabled.
ō Schools should not make readily available to students any cholinesterase inhibitor chemical commonly used by kids for ďhuffingĒ. To do so will facilitate drug abuse. Neither should these same chemicals be found in school air in trace amounts. Evidence exists that neurotoxic chemicals demonstrably affect the education of kids with ADHD, and therefore might be subclinically affecting other students also.
Canaries should have many civil rights. I only mention the most basic human rights here, which canaries donít yet have.
Canaries and asthmatics have one recognizably enforced civil right. The United States Postal Service will no longer let fragranced advertisements and fragranced magazines be bulk-mailed to homes. In homes that use mail slots, fragranced ads would automatically pollute the air of asthmatics and canaries in their own homes. Therefore, no random recipient should receive fragranced ads.
I believe that neurotoxic chemicals continue to turn formerly healthy people into canaries for life. Often these same cholinesterase inhibitor chemicals are statistically linked to asthma, to cancer and to multiple sclerosis. I believe that no one, healthy, asthmatic or canary, should be forced to breathe any unhealthy chemicals.
The school of hard knocks has trained human canaries and asthmatics to sense unhealthy indoor air. If we value our healthy kids, we will not let children (or adults) breathe any air that a human canary or asthmatic canít breathe.
The enforcement of civil rights for canaries may in fact save the lives and health of other people, people who by rights should live a long life. Perhaps each healthy personís civil right to a healthy life is being violated too.
Many human canaries have lifetime concentrations of certain chemicals called cholinesterase inhibitors in their body fat. Some persistent cholinesterase inhibitors include lead, mercury, depleted uranium, pesticides and nerve gas in Gulf War veterans. These chemicals can build up in human fatty tissue over a lifetime, and arenít excreted.
Cholinesterase inhibitors are so-named because they bind to the enzyme cholinesterase in the brain, rendering the enzyme useless. One theory holds that sometimes very little useful cholinesterase is left, on a permanent basis, in an affected personís brain. The introduction of even miniscule amounts of other cholinesterase inhibitor chemicals will stop the proper functioning of this little remaining cholinesterase. With all of the cholinesterase gone, neurons in the brain, and also individual muscle cells throughout the body, will start to fire uncontrollably. As the neurons use up energy from repeated firing they stop functioning. Sufferers often report that they feel both foggy and irritable. Sufferers can report headaches.
Because only neurons and individual muscle cells are repeatedly fired, no externally measurable early symptoms are manifested. Early on, the victim may look physically healthy. An air sample taken at the time of exposure might detect the offending airborne chemicals for forensic purposes. Perhaps an electroencephalogram could detect the unusual neuron activity.
As the bodyís individual neurons fire and muscle cells contract repeatedly, they use up all of the bodyís available energy. The body gets fatigued. Flu-like symptoms within hours of exposure are common.
Cholinesterase inhibitor reactions are chemically different from histamine (asthma) reactions. However, both reactions are often triggered by exposure to the same airborne chemicals.
Human pheromones will pass directly from the nose into the brain and set off chemical reactions inside the brainís mood center, a section of the brain which is right behind the nose. The transfer of these chemicals is quite fast. People can react within seconds to pheromones. Cocaine snorters use and abuse the same nose-brain barrier. Powdered cocaine, when sniffed, travels into the brainís mood center within seconds.
When a canary walks into a room full of petrochemical solvents, their first breath will bring a dose of toluene into the brainís mood center in seconds. In seconds the mood centerís neurons can be out of control. An immediate mood center reaction of irritability, depression or hysteria can take place. Many long-time canaries have learned to compensate for this reaction once they recognize whatís happening, but Iíve heard reports of canary children and Alzheimerís patients acting out. In another couple of minutes the solvents can work their way through the brain to the cerebral cortex. At this point the sufferer can also become foggy and disoriented.
Many petrochemical solvents canít be smelled. The solvents in perfumes are often chosen for their lack of smell and their ability to push fragrant oils into the air. However, canaries can learn, through year after year of repeated chemical poisonings, what a poisoning feels like inside. Canaries learn that if they feel angry, foggy or headachy for no reason other than being in a new room, they may be breathing toxins and a quick exit from the room may save them from enduring a long, slow recovery period.
Smells come in groups. Healthy people canít smell carbon monoxide at all, but they can smell the hydrocarbon by-products of burned fuel oil or kerosene. If indoor air smells like burned fuel oil, smart people will open the windows or get out. In the same way, human canaries are vigilant for the smell of rose and lilac oils in perfumes. A little lilac in indoor air probably means to a canary that the air is full of the odorless but dangerous solvents so commonly mixed into perfumes.
Non-canaries can also learn to be more aware of perfumes and other common scents. I regularly assist my wife on airplanes. On full flights we try to park non-perfumed people in the seats directly around my wife, with the idea that heavily scented passengers far away in the airplane will have most of their scents eventually vented out of the jetís contained air, and my wife will breathe relatively safer air in her section of the cabin.
If a human canary has already reached the foggy, disoriented stage, donít expect him or her to take care of her/his most immediate medical need. Either you must take action or your canary friend could get really sick with a long health recovery period. Get him or her to fresher air.
Donít argue with a canary in a toxic environment. Arguing with a canary in a poisonous room, or just outside of a fueled jet at an airport, is medical negligence.
Canaries and their non-canary allies can learn to read labels. Certain marker pens conform to non-toxic standards, and other marker pens on the market donít conform and are hazardous. Washable markers are safest. Crayola makes washable markers, but they also make a second line of deliberately scented washable markers. Avoid these scented markers.
Human canaries have a pretty long checklist of things to avoid. Almost all varieties of air fresheners are deadly. Anything with a built-in scent is probably dangerous. Laundry detergents, dish soaps and bar soaps are often scented. Perfumes, nail polish, hair spray and a several other cosmetics are hazardous. Cleaners based on chlorine or ammonia are hazardous. Unscented or otherwise safer versions of products usually exist and cost the same.
Most new home construction uses chemicals or materials that emit toxic solvent fumes. A number of couples have reported to my wife and myself that they first closed their brand new homeís windows in October, and then they moved out of their own home in November for health reasons.
Sometimes new products have to be placed in a room with an open window or in a garage to outgas. We use our back hallway. The plastic on our newest computer needed maybe 5 months to outgas its toxic chemicals.
Consider buying hazardous items in the spring, so that the house windows can be left open all summer. Consider finishing home construction in the spring to let the interior of the house outgas all summer.
The EPA now recommends that every home keep a window open a crack even in the winter, to allow fresh air into the home. We notice how this suggestion will drive up heating costs and offer it tentatively, but marvel that the EPA would offer this suggestion at all. They donít usually seem to acknowledge the dangers of indoor air.
Many plants are genetically predisposed to absorb formaldehyde, xylene and other petroleum solvents into their leaves as a source of nutrients. The book ďHow to Grow Fresh AirĒ suggests members of the palm family that tend to be the hungriest chemical-eaters.
Hydrocarbon solvents in indoor air can also be absorbed by a charcoal filter or by a Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) filter. Generally, air is blown through such an adsorption medium by a fan. Such filters eventually become saturated with chemicals and need to be regularly changed every few months.
My wife carries a charcoal filter mask for emergencies. The mask is a bother to wear for any period of time, but it does save her from a poisoning. The cheapest carbon filter masks are paint fume masks. Better masks that are slightly easier on a personís facial skin are available. However, we also know at least one local canary who avoids paint fume masks because they restrict her breathing.
The longer-term effects of low-level cholinesterase inhibitor poisonings are many in number. They are often chronic problems, sometimes vague, and sometimes pretty bizarre. They include chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.
Sometimes canaries can be walking around and they look normal and healthy, but inside they canít find the energy to climb a flight of stairs. Each stair step up takes one minute, including resting time. The effect has been compared to climbing Mount Everest without oxygen.
A woman with newly-diagnosed chronic fatigue syndrome played goalie on the U.S. Womenís Olympic Soccer team in 2004. She could take the field, but had to be ultra-disciplined with her life off the field. Someone else had to carry her baggage through the airport terminal. She woke up, played soccer, went to sleep, woke up, played soccer, went to sleep and did nothing else. In Rhode Island we have a formerly athletic friend who has slept 20 hours a day for 10 years. A sick building caused her to lose so much of her life.
Fibromyalgia is a gnawing, terrible pain that again doesnít show on the outside. It can last for days or months, and it can move around. It usually leaves the sufferer feeling very fatigued. Despite its disabling nature, fibromyalgia is notorious for doctors not being able to diagnose the problem.
The medical profession has a history of dismissing such chronic, vague, bizarre symptoms. 220,000 Gulf War Veterans were almost all told by Veterans Administration doctors that their illnesses were all in their heads. Only intense Congressional lobbying forced the Pentagon to look for likely chemical sources of Gulf War Syndrome on the battlefield, and to admit that 10,000 prematurely dead Gulf War Veterans is statistically significant. Death is in no way a psychosomatic or somatoform symptom.Millions of civilian Multiple Chemical Sensitivity sufferers are equally finding out in this decade that their HMO doctors are too quick to send them to psychiatrists.
We have heard a canary speak of one doctor who claimed that no chemical could be absorbed through the skin.The teller of this story wondered whether the same doctor would turn around and prescribe a nicotine patch or a birth-control patch.