Allergy vs. Toxic Exposure

People often assume that a reaction to toxic mold is an allergic one. The following is designed to clarify this confusion. The article can be found on the website MCS America.

Q: What is the difference between a chemical allergy and a chemical toxicity?

A: An allergy produces hay fever-like symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, itching, nasal stuffiness, watering eyes, wheezing, and coughing. Allergy symptoms, while difficult, are generally regarded as different degrees of a nuisance. The symptoms are usually easily observable by a physician and therefore are easily accepted and diagnosed. Diagnosis can be confirmed with typical allergy tests for elevated immunoglobulin E (IgE).

The symptoms of chemical toxicity are typically neurological and include headache, extreme fatigue, dizziness, weakness, nausea, disorientation, memory problems, slowed reaction time, peripheral neuropathy, sensory neuropathy, and personality/mood changes. Other symptoms may include respiratory difficulty, rash, burning sensations in the nose and mouth, and gastrointestinal disorders. Serious toxicity may result in impaired speech, seizures, stroke, and paralysis.

Chemical toxicity is not regarded as a nuisance, but rather a major life-altering crisis. Victims of toxicity will take extreme measures to avoid further exposure to substances which add to their toxic load and produce a multitude of symptoms as a result of toxicity-induced cellular inflammation, nutritional deficiencies, malabsorption, and impaired detoxification.

The symptoms of toxicity are not easily observable by a physician and often seem vague and subjective as reported by the patient. The extreme measures taken to avoid further exposure often seem out of proportion to the person’s otherwise normal appearance and may lead to an incorrect conclusion that the person is psychotic, paranoid, or anxious.

Diagnosis is initially difficult unless the patient was poisoned on the job or has had a sudden acute exposure to a known toxic substance. Patients suffering from chronic low-level exposure to a toxic substance may not even be aware of the substance that has made them ill. Instead they may report illness when in a certain building or exposed to certain chemicals.

Typically chronic low-level poisoning cases include chronic environmental pesticide, mold, or formaldehyde exposure in the home or workplace. Typical allergy treatments such as antihistamines and provocative neutralization don’t reduce the symptoms of toxicity. In fact, since the body is already toxic, antihistamines and other drugs often add to body burden and make the symptoms worse. Through identifying and ceasing the source of exposure and treating the physical damage caused by the toxicant, symptoms from toxicity can be reduced and/or eliminated. A physician specializing in this area is recommended.

New Year Perspective

As the Christmas decorations are tucked away, and the glitter gives way to a New Year...

Earthly sorrows often take center stage. It may be the loss of a loved one, betrayal by a friend, chronic illness, financial strain, or simply a sense of emptiness or longing.

I've thought a great deal about the book of Job this year. And found great consolation in the following passage from the book The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Here, the kind and patient monk, Father Zossima, reflects on the story of Job and his own waning moments on Earth.

... I've never been able to read that sacred tale without tears. And how much that is great, mysterious, and unfathomable there is in it! The words of mockery and blame, proud words, "How could God give up the most loved of his saints for the diversion of the devil, take from him his children, smite him with sore boils so that he cleansed the corruptions from his sores with a potsherd - and for no object except to boast to the devil! 'See how much My saint can suffer for My sake!'”

But the greatness of it all lies just in the fact that it is a mystery—that the passing earthly show and the eternal verity are brought together in it. In the face of earthly truth, the eternal truth is accomplished.

The Creator, just as on the first days of creation ended each day with praise: "that is good that I have created," looks upon Job and again praises His creation. And Job praising the Lord, serves not only Him but all His creation for generations and generations, and for ever and ever, since for that he was ordained.

Good heavens, what a book it is, and lessons there are in it!

What a book the Bible is! What a miracle and what strength is given with it to man! It is just like a sculpture of the whole world and all its human characters, with everything named there and everything shown for ever and ever.

And what mysteries are solved and revealed; God raises Job again, gives him wealth again. Many years pass by, and he has other children and loves them. But how could he love those new ones when his old children are no more, when he has lost them? Remembering them, how could he be completely happy with the new ones, however dear the new ones might be? But he could, he could! It's the great mystery of human life that old grief passes gradually into quiet tender joy. The mild serenity of age takes the place of the riotous blood of youth.

I bless the rising sun each day, and, as before, my heart sings to meet it, but now I love even more its setting, its long slanting rays and the soft tender gentle memories that come with them, the dear images from the whole of my long happy life - and over all the Divine Truth, softening, reconciling, forgiving! My life is ending, I know that well, but every day that is left me I feel how my earthly life is in touch with a new infinite, unknown, but approaching life, the nearness of which sets my soul quivering with rapture, my mind glowing, and my heart weeping with joy.

The Day the War Stopped

On Christmas Day, 1914, World War I came to a halt. German soldiers placed candles on trees and sang Christmas carols, most notably Stille Nacht. British troops responded by singing English carols.

The unofficial truce fulfilled the wishes of Pope Benedict XV, "that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang."

It felt like a cease-fire at our house Christmas Day. It's not what I expected. Two days earlier Kaitlyn fell while hiking and broke her collarbone. An "8-week-recovery" break.

I felt overwhelmed for her pain, her setback, and the financial implications.

Christmas Eve I silently cried myself to sleep. Kaitlyn's injury brought other grief to the surface.

My first Christmas without my mom, remaining physical challenges, an uncertain financial future.

I awoke with a renewed sense of peace. Maybe it was the excitement of the kids. The fortitude of my husband. Or the sound of The Muppet Christmas Carol playing in the living room.

Our breakfast was simple. We took no chances and didn't stray too far from our diet. We did add eggs. Something we haven't had for 5 months. I made pancakes with coconut flour and flax.

We juiced mango and pineapple for a treat.

We spent 3 hours opening gifts. And the cease-fire began. Nothing but laughter and singing. Excitement as the kids gave gifts to each other.

And not a thought about health or symptoms. Heavy exposure to toxic mold results in an internal war. The evil mycotoxins absorb into the body, circulate through the bloodstream, and affect our body systematically. Recovery, especially for those of us with the 4353 genotype, means a long, hard battle. A battle requiring constant strategizing and vigilance.

We didn't talk about the war once.

Better yet, we made it all the way to dinner without one fight! Even then it was only a minor skirmish.

"This is our best Christmas ever!" I heard time and time again. It's the good that comes from loss. Expectations diminish.

Tomorrow the battle will resume. Our informal armistice will be over.

But I'll always treasure Christmas Day 2009. I'm just sure I heard angels singing.

Nativity by John Donne

Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,

Now leaves His well-belov'd imprisonment,

There He hath made Himself to His intent

Weak enough, now into the world to come;

But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?

Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,

Stars and wise men will travel to prevent

The effect of Herod's jealous general doom.

Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith's eyes, how He

Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?

Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,

That would have need to be pitied by thee?

Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,

With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.

A Single Mother's Plight

I have one last story to share before Christmas that will tug at your heart. This is a single mother with two children living in public housing. Her story illustrates the need for political awareness in the area of toxic mold. She saw our story on CBN.

"It was like someone was telling my story. I almost dropped to the floor. I thought only I am going through this and it must be in my head.

I've been noticing things that have been happening to my children and I for many years. First it was the coughing, lack of balance, and shortness of breath. Then it was headaches, lightheadedness, achy limbs, sensitivity to salt, and sugar, severe stomach aches. Then, my kids kept getting infections, flu like symptoms, and gastral problems. My kids and I have taken pain relievers for the headaches, antacid for the stomachs, and a change in our diet to what we can tolerate.

My kids complain about different symptoms on a daily basis. We have been to every doctor you can think of for each symptom with no help. I knew something in this house was what was making us sick. People thought I was crazy and stressed out. I have complained to the landlord numerous times with really no success. I am a single mom and I want the best for my kids. They go to a great school and live in a great neighborhood. I live in public housing and I fought to be placed in a decent neighborhood with high standard schools.

I have been going through illness after illness for many years. Then the bomb dropped. I was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma stage three. During that time I was severely ill. I could barely breathe, I ached, and had other symptoms. My tumors were in every area that I complained about for many years. The burning throat and chest discomfort and the gastral problems.

I know whatever is in this house played a part in this but I just can not prove it.

My kids' health has gone downhill. My oldest daughter was very healthy when we moved into this house eight years ago. She has had numerous symptoms but the most severe have been bad headaches, dizziness, severe fatigue, sensitivity to salt, heat especially if it is humid, and fainting. She has been diagnosed with asthma especially when she is active.

My younger daughter always complains about her stomach. I see signs of depression, lack of energy. We all are very very tired. Sometimes we wake up tired, like we never went to sleep. Sometimes it is hard for my kids to go to sleep because we ache so bad. Two days ago we all went to the store to shop. I had intentions of going to several stores. I ignored my daughter when she said she did not want to go because she was too tired. I ignored her because I thought it was teenage laziness.

My kids still go to school but they struggle with learning because of their unexplained symptoms. Sometimes I feel like a bad mother because I do not know how to fix it. Sometimes we cry together because we all feel so hopeless. I can not wait until the day I see my eight year old and my twelve year old back to their old selves again.

I know there is mold in this house and I really do not have the finances to do anything about it. I finally convinced the health department to come out to see. I do not know what good that is going to do. I just want you to know I appreciate you speaking out because now I do not feel so alone. When I do find out what it is, and if it is mold, I want to do something about this to make sure no other family goes through this."

Perfect Match

When Chris and I were househunting for our very first home in 1988, our realtor exhorted us to stop looking for the "perfect house." I was taken aback as I was only commenting on the size of the master closet. Still, Chris and I took the advice to heart.

"If you're looking for the perfect car," Chris will quip in the middle of car shopping. "If you're looking for the perfect computer," I'll joke while he agonizes over an electronics decision.

Today is our 27th wedding anniversary. We exchanged cards this morning. Each card contained the words "perfect match."

Perfection is different for me now. It's not a house with a big closet. Or a marriage without conflict.

It's love in the midst of sorrow. Patience in the midst of trial.

Determination despite despair.

We didn't find the perfect house in 1988. We sure didn't when we moved to Colorado in 2000.

But love is bigger than whatever we face. Conflict. Mold. Illness.

And God is the one who brings two young, naive souls together and keeps them together despite overwhelming odds.

Demonstrating that two imperfect people can, with time and
adversity, become the perfect match.

Bike Swap

I stole a bike recently from a friendly neighborhood department store. I didn’t mean to. Honestly.

We bought a bike for Reagan in October. We paid extra for the replacement plan.

Within the first week Reagan came home with tire problems. Soon the rear brakes failed. It was time to utilize our replacement plan.

I took the bike to the store (a 40-minute drive), and learned that "replacement" might not be an accurate word for our plan. A phone number was mentioned, but it was clear: keep the bike.

I talked with the manager about the brakes, the tires, and our general dissatisfaction with the product. He agreed to have his bike guys fix the brake and take a look at the tire.

“The assembly department is in another building. I’ll walk it over, and we’ll call you when it’s ready. Should be about 20 minutes,” the manager assured me.

I completed my Saturday re-stocking mission and 45 minutes later went to inquire at customer service. I saw Reagan’s bike and decided to save the inquiry and head home. Confidently, I walked the bike to my car. Assuming the rear brake was fixed, I decided to stop at a bicycle repair shop and have them install Slime. (Slime is a tire sealant, in case you’re like me and never heard of it. Every bike rider in the desert uses it, evidently.)

As I headed into the shop I noticed a missing pedal. I took a deep breath, assumed it fell off during the repair, and purchased a new set of pedals. I sprang for the extra-durable tire along with the Slime. Thirty-five dollars later I came out with a new and better bike for my son.

Within a day the handlebars failed. Chris kept tightening them but they kept loosening whenever Reagan would ride in the desert. Within a week Reagan wasn’t riding his new bike.

Two weeks later, as we contemplated the future of the bike, I received a call on my cell phone. It was one of the bike assemblers letting me know, “Your bike is ready.”

In denial and disbelief and without hesitation I said, “Thank you.”

Now what? How do I explain? What do I do with our investment of the new tire? What about the boy who came back for his missing-pedal bike? I can't handle our next meal, let alone this dilemma. Our best option, I rationalized, was to retrieve Reagan’s bike, switch out the tires, and return the “stolen” bike.

Chris picked up Reagan's bike and we followed the plan. Our neighbor helped us with the tires.

Chris drew the “return the bike” straw this week. As he walked the bike toward customer service he prepared his speech. When he arrived, the customer service line wound all the way around to the junior department. He saw a line of bikes in the "return" area and parked it next to the others. He was not guilt-free in doing this, but he was glad he didn't have to stand in line.

I share this story for four reasons:

1. To encourage others to read the fine print on replacement plans. It's Christmas, after all.

2. To celebrate the fact that our son, while still struggling with vestibular issues, is riding a bike.

3. To remind others to inspect a bike carefully before walking away with it.

4. To note the wisdom of the quote by Billy Wilder that "hindsight is always twenty-twenty."

Whether a bike with a broken pedal, or a house with toxic mold, everything is much clearer in retrospect.

Toxicologist's Report on Damp Indoor Spaces

The following report is not for laypeople. It's scholarly and geared to fellow toxicologists and other professionals. It's worth reviewing, however, because if ever there was a question that there's more to mold than meets the eye, it's answered here.

This article, along with 15 others on the subject of damp indoor spaces, appeared in the October edition of Toxicology and Industrial Health. It's written by Dr. Jack Thrasher and he alluded to it in the interview I conducted with him in June. During the course of that interview he kept reminding me that when discussing mold, "you should also include the bacteria present in water damaged structures."

There are 9 types of biocontaminants resulting from water intrusion listed in the report. These include:

(1) molds
(2) bacteria
(3) microbial particulates
(4) mycotoxins
(5) volatile organic compounds (non-microbial[MVOCs] and microbial [VOCs])
(6) proteins (e.g. secreted enzymes, haemolysins and siderophores)
(7) galactomannans (extracellular polysaccharides or EPS)
(8) 1-3-D-b-glucans (glucans)
(9) endotoxins (lipopolysaccharides [LPS])

The article reviews these biocontaminants in detail and talks about the synergism that occurs between mold and bacteria. Something Dr. Thrasher described to me on October 4, 2008. The day we left our home. It was the first time I heard of something the dictionary describes this way:

"The interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions, etc." In other words, mold and bacteria work together to create something extremely harmful to individuals.

No wonder my tongue was black and I was forgetting simple things the day we walked away.

The article concludes with this powerful message,

"The medical profession worldwide should add to its basic curriculum detailed information on the health effects of the multi-biocontaminants present in water-damaged buildings. Diagnostic tests should be developed and recommended to determine the nature of building-related illness, e.g. allergy, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, encephalopathy, fungal infections, bacterial infection, etc.

Finally, the medical profession must recognize the importance of immediate removal of occupants from the toxic environment. Government agencies and medical universities need to increase research to continue to further solidify knowledge regarding health impacts that multi-biocontaminants have on human and animal occupants.

Preventing exposure to indoor biocontaminants is the most effective way for society to avoid the illnesses they cause. When exposure has already occurred, immediate removal of the occupant(s) from the contaminated environment is paramount and will minimize further damage to health.

Proper diagnoses will enable affected individuals to either remediate the contaminated structures, if possible, or locate other housing and/or work environments. Increased awareness of the potential health hazards of indoor biocontaminants is the first step in managing – and ultimately reducing – the illnesses they induce."

The full article can be reviewed here.


Since our story aired on Wednesday, I have heard from numerous people in similar situations. It does not cease to amaze me just how many of us find ourselves in this position. It remains unfathomable to me that our political and medical communities remain virtually unaware of the dangers of toxic mold. Here is one of the stories. (Used with permission.)

"I just watched your story on CBN. So familiar to us and what we are going through right now.

We started to suspect mold last fall. We left for a mini vacation and some of my symptoms let up drastically. We stayed with family in December when my symptoms were keeping me from getting out of bed. Again, my symptoms let up some. Everyone was telling me I was stressed or it was depression.

I was so angry that I went home and took a hammer to my walls. The plywood was wet and the window parts were rusted inside of the walls. We built our home in 2006 in Yorkville, IL. Our builder made so many mistakes, but the biggest mistake was that they didn't install our windows correctly.

We never found a lawyer to take it on, of course the insurance company didn't help, and we let the house go. As of December of this year it was purchased by someone. I can only imagine it was an investor who will patch it and resell it. I contacted the county, the state, and others, but the house was still put up for sale with no disclosures. As much as I researched, I just didn't find the right information in time. I was very out of sorts and had trouble thinking straight, so I'm going to blame it on that I guess.

Unfortunately, we never tested. My body and my children's health was deteriorating. This much we did know. The house sat for 9 months until the bank took it back. The last time I entered, I was extremely sick within minutes to say the least. The hardest part at this point almost a year later is that all I want is my children well again.

We have moved a couple times already this year and also had to get rid of both of our cars since the mold was so bad from being in our garage. The money is gone from just trying to replace simple things and some of the necessities.

I never thought we would be at this point, but it sure has opened our eyes to the important things in life.

My kids have improved in some ways which is a blessing. My oldest daughter used to throw up almost every night and also in the car. She was having hormone changes at age 6. My middle daughter has breathing problems now and reacts to something new almost every week. She had mold growing under her new mattress. She used to stop breathing while she was sleeping in our old house and hallucinate. At least it seemed that way to me. My son was born in that house. He has allergies now and sensitivities also. They are so young, I'm not always sure they understand if they are feeling bad or not.

My symptoms started 3 years ago now, I was told I have a demylinating disease. At that point, I still didn't know it was mold. After many tests they found that I have an optic nerve delay in both eyes, which of course is from my exposure. All our symptoms are. I started juicing, went on a gluten free diet, and made some other healthy changes. I was trying to help myself with my symptoms without the drugs the neurologist gave me.

Just the other night I was thinking about how this year has been an emotional roller coaster. I heard your husband describe the same feeling. God bless your family, it means so much to me to have met you. I wish it would have been in different circumstances, but this is where I've been brought in my life now. And I know it was for a reason."

Mold Story FAQs

Our story airs today on the 700 Club on CBN. The story can be viewed at this CBN link. Or at Chris' website, which includes a Christmas reflection on Home.

Our story often raises a number of questions. I thought it might be helpful to answer some of them.

What do you do all day?

My goal when we first relocated to Tucson was to establish a “recovery routine.” It took 10 months to do this. We had one obstacle after another. Now our week has structure, and even with everyday hindrances that come with the de-tox process, we have a semblance of a schedule.

Most of my day is now spent in the kitchen. If the dietary changes weren’t so helpful I would not invest this kind of time. Breakfast involves juicing a number of vegetables, supervising smoothie production, giving out supplements and herbs, and getting the younger kids ready for school.

Our tutor, provided by the school district, comes for three hours each weekday morning.

After school, the kids go running with our oldest daughter, Erin. They do relay races and drills along with lap running.

Lunch consists of stir-fried quinoa and brown rice with vegetables. Some days we have BLTs made with turkey bacon with lettuce substituted for bread.

The afternoon involves supervising free time for the kids, a trip to acupuncture, the park, or the grocery store. Often we stay home and do chores, read, rest, etc.

Dinner involves more vegetables, a big salad, chicken or soup, red meat occasionally, red potatoes, etc.

Evening is our “down” time. Two of the kids do the dishes and the rest of us play a game, watch a movie, or work on computers.

Weekends are my opportunity to escape for a while. Any type of errand alone has become a luxury.

Sunday is the day we don’t “work” on recovery. We take a break from supplements, running, etc. We stick to the diet but enjoy “easier” foods like burgers on the grill.

This summary doesn’t include the day-to-day conflicts, heartache, tears that go with the de-tox, and post-traumatic experience. Every day is a struggle. But given our last 3 years of doctor’s appointments, hospital visits, and crises, I’m grateful for a healthy routine.

How and why do you blog?

I began this blog with one person in mind--the one who, like me, is experiencing a health crisis with no diagnosis. The person who wonders if the environment could be a factor. The person who feels isolated and alone with the questions that spring from a toxic exposure. I don’t write from a position of happy endings or miracle cures, but as one who is still in the trenches.

My inspiration comes from two historic individuals.

Dr. Viktor Frankl , a holocaust survivor, documented his experience in the book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” I read this book years ago when I was grappling with the deep suffering of Holocaust victims. I’ll never forget his description of the prisoners who gave their bread away. In the midst of their suffering, they were still able to give. That, Frankl says, gave their life meaning and thus the will to survive. That thought has been with me for 20 years.

Harriet Tubman found freedom from slavery through the Underground Railroad. She chose to go back time and time again to help others. Her life has always amazed me. When I realized that we had escaped our home and were traveling in the dark trying to find freedom, I determined to do what I could to help others navigate their way through this maze of decisions and dilemmas. One of her quotes continues to inspire me:

"I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves."

There are many people who are ill due to environmental factors. If our story can help someone make that connection, I’ll keep sharing it.

As for how I do this blog, I honestly don’t know. The blog does not fairly represent the heartache that comes each day. I can’t get my head together at times and can’t imagine putting a coherent word on a page.

Sherry Parmelee, a friend from our Moody days in Chicago, volunteered to help me in January of 2009 when I began. She loves editing and couldn’t help noticing my numerous punctuation and spelling errors. She began to “tweak” my blogs for me, and this soon turned to major editing and rearranging. I would have given up months ago if it weren’t for Sherry. She has her own environmental illness journey and this only adds to her vision to help get the word out.

Sherry's husband Dan has worked tirelessly on the website Moms Against Mold. Still in its infancy, my hope is that it will be a forum for moms and others to exchange information and encouragement. Dan and Sherry have a website consulting business found at this website.

What is your prognosis?

Our story is complicated by our genetic factor. This makes it extremely difficult to get rid of the mycotoxins which have wreaked havoc on our bodies. I carry the double genotype, which means each one of our nine children carry one. Chris doesn’t carry this factor, and this is why avoidance and diet have worked so well for him. His body is slowly recovering on its own.

Thus, my prognosis, along with the children’s, is different. It will require a great deal of hard work and perseverance to recover. Any medical professional who has worked with us has assured us recovery is possible. I remain guardedly optimistic and will continue to do everything within my power to give us the best possible chance. I have no doubt there will be lifelong issues.

What is the status of your home in Colorado? Do you think you will live there again?

Our home remains as we left it on October 4, 2008. A team of experts has been in one time along with a remediator who emptied the refrigerator for us and turned off the electricity. We currently have a forbearance on our mortgage pending legal action. We’re not sure if that will continue. Legal action is our best hope to avoid foreclosure.

We tested 3 months after we left and found high levels of toxic mold. To clean the home would require another $40,000. Cleaning it would not locate the source and therefore we have hesitations about covering up the problem. We have been advised not to live there again.

My gut feeling is to follow the protocol set forth in Leviticus. If mold is found in a home, the family is to vacate. If the mold comes back after cleaning, the home is to be demolished. We have already replaced the carpet and replaced two bathrooms, and still there is serious mold amplification. Because of numerous structural defects, I think it would be best to tear it down and start again, though we are open to other options.

Regardless, we are in a difficult holding pattern until we know the outcome of the legal action.

What about your older kids? Are any of them able to work or go to college?

Our three oldest daughters each lived in the most contaminated room at some point in their adolescent years. I have shared very little about their sufferings. It’s too soon. Their lives have been put on hold as they pour themselves into recovery. I can’t say enough about their courageous determination.

Ryan was able to complete high school, but had to put his dream to pursue acting in New York City on hold. He has committed this year to regaining his health. His digestive tract took a huge hit and he continues to amaze me with his meticulous attention to his diet and exercise protocol.

Kristen is taking one geometry class through a program called Teaching Textbooks. Because of her level of fatigue, this is just the right amount of study for her. Her plan is to obtain her GED and look toward Community College next year.

What have you learned about health through this experience?

The dramatic rise in chemical use in recent years, combined with the lack of knowledge about mold and mycotoxins, along with tighter building construction, has led to illnesses which are foreign to the medical community at large. Our bodies have been unable to adapt to the chemical assault and our buildings have less ventilation. A myriad of health issues have emerged. We’re just beginning to connect these with the environment. Thanks to the information on the Internet, many of us have been able to diagnose ourselves.

I've also learned the value of symptoms. We like to make symptoms "go away" without considering the cause. I think our bodies let us know when something is off. If we choose to listen to our symptoms rather than mask them, we have a much better chance to recover.

I have taken great inspiration from Hippocrates the Greek physician, who emphasized the importance of clean air, clean water, and clean food.

Birthday Bears

We've celebrated two birthdays in a week. Ryan turned 19 on November 29th and Colin turned 10 on Saturday. Chris figured out we've celebrated 128 birthdays in the last 24 years.

Last year's birthdays were something to "survive." We tried to "get through" the day, trying our best to minimize the kids' inevitable disappointment. We were on the run, de-toxing, and unable to offer much more than a present and maybe a dinner out.

These two birthdays felt almost normal. Well, normal in light of our "new normal." We decorated and baked. Played hide and seek. Laughed. Shannon and I took Ryan to Best Buy to look at movies. Chris took Colin and a few of the kids to Build-a-Bear. Even Erin came home with a bear.

I think we'll title this picture "Re-Build a Life" Bears.

MCS Accommodations

I'm not a big fan of the term "multiple chemical sensitivity." It sounds like we get our feelings hurt easily. Or we overreact to people and places. As if it's all in our heads. Recently Chris took a trip to West Virginia. It took him 3 hotel rooms and 2 rental cars to be able to function. This is far from an imagined illness.

Dr. Mark Donohoe, an Australian doctor specializing in environmental medicine, offers the following definition in his article Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: A Medical Perspective:

"Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) is an acquired condition in which the sufferer becomes sensitised or abnormally reactive to volatile chemicals following prolonged, recurrent or high dose exposure to volatile chemicals. The most distinctive symptom is 'cacosmia,' or a heightened sensitivity and lowered threshold to odours that most of the population find inoffensive or would not notice."

(It's important to note that toxic mold gives off volatile organic compounds. These constitute the "musty" smell.)

Dr. Donohoe goes on to say, "Specific tests such as Auditory Evoked Response Potential (AERP) testing and SPECT brain scans have shown significant changes in people suffering Multiple chemical sensitivities, and these changes are consistent with neurotoxic brain damage."

This is why I might prefer the term NBI or Neurotoxic Brain Injury rather than MCS.

A friend of mine recently sent me the following list of accommodations an organization might make in order to help those of us with MCS (NBI). As one who struggles with church attendance largely due to fragrances, a church that adopted these policies would be a breath of fresh air.

· Choose personal products that are fragrance-free. Be aware that there are hidden, long-lasting fragrances in detergents, fabric softeners, new clothing, deodorants, tissues, toilet paper, potpourris, scented candles, hair sprays, magazines, hand lotions, disposable diapers, and dishwashing liquids.

· Use only unscented soap in restrooms, and carefully wrap and dispose of chemical air "fresheners."

· Designate fragrance-free seating sections for church and community events.

· Designate smoking areas away from buildings so people don't have to pass through smoke when entering, or have smoke waft in through doorways or windows.

· Adopt a policy of using fragrance-free cleaning products.

· Provide adequate ventilation; clean furnace filters frequently.

· Make sure toxic substances are labeled, tightly sealed, and stored in a separate safe area.

· Post herbicide or insecticide application schedule in your newsletter. Post signs of treatment dates prominently. Use integrated pest management practices.

· Avoid wearing scented personal care products in public places. Improve indoor air quality simply by not wearing fragrance. Fragrance, like second-hand smoke, affects the health of those around you.

· Unscented beeswax candles are often well-tolerated by people with sensitivities. Use them as an alternative to scented or paraffin candles.

· Learn what an individual is sensitive/allergic to and make accommodations respectfully.

Mold in the Media

Stories surrounding toxicity in the environment continue to abound.

· A family in suburban Chicago recently vacated their home due to toxic mold. The couple, along with their one-year old twins, were forced to leave after an upstairs neighbor's washing machine flooded and leaked through their ceiling. The resulting mold was remediated improperly and quickly grew. The family became ill, and the husband was hospitalized for breathing problems. The Chicago Tribune ran this story about their plight.

· My friend Kristina, who relocated to Arizona due to a mold exposure in the Virgin Islands, recently sent me this press release about her battle for Social Security benefits. She was working when she was exposed and immediately became disabled. Her story illustrates the hazards of cross-contamination. I've summarized her story here.

· The state of Wisconsin has passed its first Indoor Air Quality law for public and private schools. The move comes after a 5-year effort by mold activist Jeanne Black, whose daughter became ill after attending an elementary/middle school in Darlington, Wisconsin. The Center for School Mold Help has been instrumental in the passage of this law. For more information on this story see SMH's website.

· CBN has set an air date for our story for next Wednesday, December 9. The 700 Club has a weekly Wednesday health segment and our story will appear at that time.