Why the Dumpsters?

It is with a great sense of relief that we begin a new week, a new summer, and a new chapter in our lives.

Our home sale went through on Friday, the dumpsters arrived, and the disposal process began. Our neighbor, Brandi, captured some of the action for us.

Did we really need to leave everything behind on the day we vacated the home?

We were advised to treat the house as a fire and flee with the clothing on our backs. We were further advised to dispose of that clothing.

I now see the wisdom of this counsel. Not only for health reasons, but for sanity's sake. We were colonized with fungus when we left our home. We carried the fungus with us. It should have been no surprise to me, therefore, that we were symptomatic after we left. Still, I was shocked by the nosebleeds, recurring migraines, rashes, etc. We constantly worried about cross-contamination. If we brought anything with us, our already compromised sanity would be shaken further.

This is why I advise others who find themselves in a mold-infested environment to make a new start with new clothing and air mattresses. Make your decisions about your belongings later. Once you're settled and establish a fresh environment, you can consider them. Often the desire to bring things with you lessens. If stachybotrys is not involved, items may be successfully cleaned. Often professional cleaning is optimal. Other times, white vinegar and/or hydrogen peroxide can be used. With severe health issues it is always best to proceed with the utmost caution.

Toxicologist Dr. Jack Thrasher addresses the issue of cross-contamination this way:

The toxins produced by mold are basically free radicals, i.e. they have reactive oxygen radicals that bind to fabrics and can be released with time. Also, not only Stachybotrys, but other dangerous molds release fine particles as well as larger particles, e.g. spores. The fine particles (less than 1 micron) permeate fabrics and are not readily removed. In addition, the mold spores bind to fabrics and can lead to cross-contamination of the new environment.

Also, do not forget the presence of potentially pathogenic bacteria. They can be aerosolized and also contaminate furnishings and clothing.

Dr. Thrasher mentions the smaller particles. Smaller than mold spores. Let's first consider the size of mold spores. According to Minnesota State University Moorhead's Environmental Health and Safety link regarding mold spores:

Most fungal spores range from 1 to 100 microns in size with many types between 2 and 20 microns. People with good vision may see 80-100 micron particles unaided, but below that range, magnification is generally necessary.

To put things in perspective, you could place over 20 million five-micron spores on a postage stamp.

As for the smaller particles, a study conducted in 2005, and published in the journal Atmospheric Environment, demonstrates that "fungal fragments" may be deeply inhaled and cause significant problems. The study focuses on fragments and spores of three different fungal species (Aspergillus versicolor, Penicillium melinii, and Stachybotrys chartarum). All three were aerosolized by the fungal spore source strength tester. The conclusion:

Fungal fragments released from contaminated surfaces outnumber spores.


S. chartarum fragments demonstrated 230–250 fold higher respiratory deposition than spores, while the number of deposited fragments and spores of A. versicolor were comparable.

The conclusion of a second study published in the January 2009 edition of the Science of the Total Environment Journal:

The present study indicates that long-term mold damage in buildings may increase the contribution of submicrometer-sized fungal fragments to the overall mold exposure. The health impact of these particles may be even greater than that of spores, considering the strong association between numbers of fine particles and adverse health effects reported in other studies (Gold et al., 2000; Magari et al., 2001, 2002; Pekkanen et al., 2002).

These studies clearly suggest that there is more than meets the eye when toxic mold is involved.

When I consider the seizures, organ failure, brain damage, horrific rashes, endocrine disruption, and more that occurred in our home, I don't have to think twice about saving our new refrigerator.

Could we have saved some of our non-porous items? Perhaps. Do I regret not trying? Absolutely not.

Could someone else have used our possessions with little to no ill health effects? Perhaps. Do I regret the cautious action of dumping the items? No, because we’re sure no one's health will ever be compromised with these items.

I have learned the hard way to respect mold spores, and now fungal fragments, the way I respect lightning, icy roads, and hurricanes. It is my passion to help others do the same.

House Sale and Hidden Beauty

I sent an email this week to our friends in Colorado. Not an email I expected to write.

Update from the Fabry family

I want to update all of you on the status of our home. Faced with imminent foreclosure, we elected to sell our home to a qualified remediator and team of investors. The price equaled the balance of our loan, so while we still lose our equity, we protect our credit. The home will be remediated and sold as soon as possible. We signed the papers yesterday, and if all goes well, the emptying of the home will begin this weekend.

Here's how Chris describes this most recent event:

It’s a victory of sorts for us, getting out from under the crushing weight of the house. But it’s also a loss.

This Saturday the dumpsters will arrive and everything we treasured, every Pat Conroy book that had been signed by the author, my daughter’s Taylor guitar, my first guitar I bought in tenth grade, all of our clothes, bedding, keepsakes from 27 years of marriage, Christmas ornaments, baby covers—everything we treasured will go into dumpsters.

If the bank had gotten the home, who knows how well it would have been cleaned. This really is the best scenario, but in a way it feels like getting kicked out of the Garden. I wanted to watch my daughters get married in that house. I wanted to write the Great American Novel there. I wanted to bury our dogs in the back yard.

But the hopes and dreams of ten years are going in the dumpster. The Lord gives and he takes away. Blessed be his name. The Lord drives some into the desert, to a dry and thirsty land. And souls are stirred in arid places.

We left our home 19 months ago. Our two-month “medical vacation” in Arizona has led us down a path far different than we imagined. We have made the difficult decision to begin a new life here in the desert and transfer our permanent residence. We're transferring our thirsty souls as well.

To all of our friends and supporters: I thought we would watch our kids graduate together. I assumed we would share more school plays, grade school concerts, and coffee at Wesley Owens. It’s been tough to process the loss of this dream. Even harder to help our kids do the same.

Chris, the kids, and I all know, however, that the Arizona climate is helping us progress. It's painfully slow, but we’re seeing improvement. Our difficulty lies in the fact that I have a genotype shared by 9% of the population. A type that does not “tag” biotoxins and detoxify them. Without aggressive attention these poisons remain in the body, free to wreak havoc. I carry a double genetic marker, which means each one of my children is destined to have a tough time healing from a toxic exposure.

This hasn't stopped us from trying. The kids' determination and willingness to try new foods and new treatment options amazes me.

I'd love to update you on each one. Instead I'll summarize by saying that while each one has unique physical challenges, each one is blossoming. Whether it's poetry, performing, drawing, music, or writing, their art reminds me of those first crocuses that unexpectedly poke their heads up each winter in Colorado, defying the stormy odds.

As for me, I'm slowly adjusting to this new life of ours. As many of you know, the kitchen was never my favorite place. With great inward kicking and screaming I have learned more about foods and cooking than I ever wanted to learn. I now grind flour, dehydrate almonds, sprout wheat grass, and cook quinoa. My stamina has improved a great deal in the last year to allow for this commitment. I'm still working on the brain rehabilitation.

This is not the life I would have chosen. The desert is not what I would pick. But that’s not what really matters. Only that I embrace what I’ve been given and look for the beauty in it. Hidden beauty. That's what the desert requires. Eyes to see.

That's why I love cactus flowers. Scorching temperatures. Nothing but brown, no green in sight. Thorns protruding and protecting. No hope of anything lovely. And suddenly, there it is. Unexpected beauty.

Photo by Kristen Fabry

Thanks to each one of you for sharing in our journey.


Alterations of DNA Due to Toxic Mold Exposure

Those who say "Mold is everywhere" are correct. The fungal world makes up 1/3 of the biomass of the planet. Those who suggest this means that mold can't harm you are misinformed. Mold may be a necessary part of the outdoor ecosystem, but when undetected or left untreated in an indoor environment, it becomes a serious health hazard.

Internist and toxicology specialist Dr. Michael Gray has seen hundreds of patients with a wide-ranging list of symptoms, all of whom lived, worked, or studied in a water-damaged building.

In the following 6-minute video, Dr. Gray explains why the mycotoxins associated with toxic mold are hazardous. According to Dr. Gray, these toxins have the potential to alter our DNA, an astounding fact given that the DNA molecule is one of the most stable molecules on Earth.

You do not have to be a microbiologist to follow this explanation. Dr. Gray uses layman's terms to explain why proper understanding is crucial to the health of future generations.

For another interesting perspective on the potential of mycotoxins (specifically aflatoxins) to cause DNA mutations, see the Inside Cancer Teacher website.

Good News for Tenants

The National Apartment Association devoted an entire blog this week to the issue of mold. Titled "Mold: Your Silent Enemy," the NAA post states "the mold that we deal with in our industry can pose potentially harmful effects to residents, employees and to your company’s bottom line."

The article lists numerous ways residents and landlords can prevent costly mold growth. Costly in terms of structural damage. Costly in terms of human health.

The blog concludes this way,

"Remember, mold can cause major health problems and even death. Don’t let it get out of control and affect your company or your residents."

To read the blog in its entirety, click here.

Toxic Injury Awareness Month

"Toxic Injury Awareness and Education Month" has been declared in 25 states across the nation for May 2010. One such proclamation comes from the state of Nevada.

Whereas; people of all ages throughout the world have developed Toxic Injury, illnesses, and disabilities from toxic exposures; and

Whereas; Toxic Injury is often characterized by medical intolerance to very small amounts of air pollutants, petrochemicals, mold and other toxins found in homes, schools, work places, or everyday products and environment. It can be caused by acute or chronic exposure to one or more chemicals, pesticides, and solvents; and

Whereas; Toxic Injury may include multitude, often disabling illnesses and can be life threatening; and

Whereas; Toxic Injury is a chronic debilitating condition causing serious financial, employment, learning, housing, health, social, and other consequences; and

Whereas; the prevalence of these illnesses and the lack of knowledge and qualified doctors clearly warrant further education in this field for the public in general, future as well as practicing doctors, dentists, rescue personnel as well as other health care, social service, rehabilitation, housing, architects, HVAC designers and installers, building maintenance and cleaning personnel, school and employer/supervisory persons at schools, work places and public facilities and pest control personnel. "Applied Knowledge is Power", and that Power can save precious lives; and

NOW, THEREFORE, I, JIM GIBBONS, GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF NEVADA, do hereby proclaim the month of May 2010 as


To read all 25 proclamations, see the "MCS" Beacon Of Hope Foundation's toxic injury website.


The following list is taken from the book Mold Warriors by Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker. These are symptoms of biotoxin illness (biotoxin definition: poison produced by and derived from an animal or plant).

According to Dr. Shoemaker, "Symptoms exhibited from the exposure to biotoxins affect everyone differently. This extensive listing is here to help you understand the many ways biotoxin illness can manifest itself. This listing does not mean that those who suffer from biotoxin illness will exhibit all of the symptoms listed here."

  • Body aches (joints, muscle, and sinus)
  • Headaches
  • Allergies
  • Allergic reactions to foods
  • Anxiety
  • Appetite swings
  • Bleeding ear
  • Bleeding gums
  • Body temperature regulation problems
  • Shortness of breath
  • Bronchitis
  • Charley horses
  • Chills
  • High cholesterol
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Abnormal circulation
  • Cognitive problems - difficulty assimilating new information; difficulty finding words; difficulty focusing; difficulty thinking or accomplishing other executive functions such as organizing and planning; difficulty with math or handling numbers; difficulty with short-term memory; short-term memory loss
  • Constipation
  • Coughing
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Delayed recovery from normal activity
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Endometriosis
  • Burning, red, or watery eyes
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Leaky Gut
  • Hypoperfusion (decreased blood flow through an organ)
  • Inflammation
  • Insomnia
  • Insulin resistance
  • Interstitial Cystitis
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Laryngitis
  • Light sensitivity
  • Lyme Disease
  • Metallic taste in mouth
  • Migraines
  • Mood swings
  • Morning stiffness
  • Muscle cramps, jerks, or twitches
  • Nausea
  • Numbness in the arms, legs, feet, or hands
  • Pain - abdominal, arm, back, chest, chronic, cycles, feet, growing, hip, joints, leg, lungs, mistaking cold and hot, sinus, stabbing, vulvar
  • Rashes
  • Raynaud's Phenomenon
  • Respiratory problems
  • Rosacea
  • Seizures
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Static shocks
  • Sinus congestion
  • Sinus infection
  • Skin sensitivity
  • Sleep apnea
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Stiffness
  • Sweating
  • Swelling
  • Sore throat
  • Tingling
  • Burning tongue
  • Tremors
  • Frequent urination
  • Vertigo
  • Blurred vision
  • Weakness
  • Weight gain
  • Weight loss
  • Wheezing


How can you protect your skin from the sun while avoiding chemicals found in most sunscreen products?

One solution is to make your own sunscreen. We use the following recipe when needed.

1 tsp. zinc oxide (one source is Soap Goods)
1 tbl. olive oil, jojoba oil, or oil of choice

This is not a waterproof sunscreen. It must be reapplied after swimming. It also cannot be stored. I mix it quickly in a disposable cup.

While not a perfect option, it's simple and affordable.

Dr. Joseph Mercola has an excellent article on the health benefits of sunlight as well as the hazards of common sunscreen products. He also offers an all-natural sunscreen. This article can be viewed here.

Some natural remedies for sunburn include: lavender essential oil, cucumber slices, aloe, vitamin E, and tea tree oil.

Food Label Jargon

Our 14-year-old son had a major food reaction last week. We attribute it to fish. Usually this would require a two-week recovery. This time it took two days.

Reagan has a vestibular migrainal condition triggered by our mold exposure. Food choices have become an integral part of his daily life. His vertigo has improved dramatically. The ringing in his left ear is 90% better. Unless, of course, he eats the wrong kind of fish.

I usually special order our fish. In this case, cod was purchased from a local market.

It's not easy to sift through the seafood options. Is farm caught better than wild caught? Atlantic or Pacific Ocean? Is all fish contaminated?

What about poultry? Or beef? Does it really matter?

The Early Show recently aired a segment titled, "Food Label Jargon Demystified." The reporter included a discussion of seafood.

From both a nutritional and environmental impact perspective, farmed fish are far inferior to their wild counterparts:

Despite being much fattier, farmed fish provide less usable beneficial omega 3 fats than wild fish.

Due to the feedlot conditions of aquafarming, farm-raised fish are doused with antibiotics and exposed to more concentrated pesticides than their wild kin. Farmed salmon, in addition, are given a salmon-colored dye in their feed, without which, their flesh would be an unappetizing grey color.

Aquafarming also raises a number of environmental concerns, the most important of which may be its negative impact on wild salmon. It has now been established that sea lice from farms kill up to 95 percent of juvenile wild salmon that migrate past them.

The only downside to wild caught salmon is the price, often times up to $10 more expensive than farm-raised per pound.

We have had great success with the wild caught salmon offered by Vital Choice Wild Seafood and Organics. It's expensive, for sure. But the benefits of healthy seafood selection can be well worth the investment.

What about poultry and beef?

The reporter addresses both.

Free range or free roaming, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, means producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.

What is organic chicken?
Organic chicken is chicken that has only been fed organic grains, which means that no pesticides or chemicals were used on the farm to grow the grain in the last three years. The chicken must also never have been given antibiotics, drugs, or hormones to accelerate growth, though they will be given medicine should they fall ill. Also, the chicken must be given free range with access to outdoors and be treated properly.

Grass-Fed Beef:
The definition of grass-fed beef generally means beef from cattle that have eaten only grass or forage throughout their lives. However, some producers do call their beef grass-fed but then actually finish the animals on grain for the last 90 to 160 days before slaughter.

Grass-Finished Beef:
A more specific definition is grass-finished beef. Finishing is just another word for the time that cattle are normally fattened for the last few months before processing. Typically, feed lots finish cattle for 90 to 160 days on grain, usually corn, whereas grass-finished cattle are fattened on grass only, until the day that they are processed.

Grass-finishing compared to grain-finishing:
When considering the definition of grass-fed beef, most beef animals have probably eaten grass at some point in their lives, but the important thing is that they're "finished," or fattened, on grass, rather than grain, for the 90 to 160 days before slaughter.

During those few months of grain finishing, the levels of important nutrients like conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and omega 3 decrease dramatically in the beef animal's tissues. It is in the finishing process that those levels and ratios drastically decline because of the grain feeding, and that is why it's so important to make sure that the beef you eat is not only grass-fed, but grass-finished.

We avoid all red meat at this point. We do much better digestively. And while legumes, vegetables, and soaked grains make up the majority of our diet, I do order our chicken online as well, from sites such as U.S. Wellness Meats.

The reporter also includes an excellent discussion of produce and pesticides.

To read the complete article, click here.

Medical Perspective

Traditional medicine as we know it today is a relatively young form of man's attempt to treat human disease and illness. The American Medical Association, for instance, was founded in 1847. Parke-Davis Company founded the first pharmaceutical research laboratory 12 years later. While modern medicine has proven miraculous in many instances, we must remind ourselves of medical wisdom dating back as far as 2600 BC. Two thousand years before Hippocrates, the Egyptian Imhotep outlined the diagnosis and treatment of 200 diseases. He was among the first to document the extraction of medicines from plants.

The following quotations provide perspective easily lost in our contemporary medical world.

The greatest mistake in the treatment of diseases is that there are physicians for the body and physicians for the soul, although the two cannot be separated. ~Plato

There is no curing a sick man who believes himself to be in health. ~Henri Amiel

It is sometimes as dangerous to be run into by a microbe as by a trolley car. ~J.J. Walsh

Symptoms, then, are in reality nothing but the cry from suffering organs. ~Jean Martin Charcot, translated from French

A physician is obligated to consider more than a diseased organ, more even than the whole man - he must view the man in his world. ~Harvey Cushing

As it takes two to make a quarrel, so it takes two to make a disease, the microbe and its host. ~Charles V. Chapin

The road to medical knowledge is through the pathological museum and not through an apothecary's shop. ~William Withey Gull

The doctor of the future will give no medicine but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease. ~Thomas Edison

Man is a creature composed of countless millions of cells: a microbe is composed of only one, yet throughout the ages the two have been in ceaseless conflict. ~A.B. Christie

The Lord hath created medicines out of the earth; and he that is wise will not abhor them. ~Ecclesiasticus 38:4

Dear Mom

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I heard your voice. You were anticipating your upcoming trip to New York City. Excited to turn 80. You weren’t feeling well. And yet you were eager to hear our latest. Eager to assure me.

“You’re doing great,” you said. Just like always. As if you believed something that I couldn’t.

It’s been a long year without you, Mom.

You’d be proud of the kids. They’re doing so well with their uphill battle. Such determination. I’d give anything to show you their writings, photographs, and art. You would marvel at the beauty that’s emerging from the ashes.

I sure do miss you, Mom.

I’m comforted knowing your soul has found a resting place. No more mystery. No more striving. No more suffering. No more questions or conflict. And no more uphill climb.

I’m tired of our climb. I know you would understand that. I get so overwhelmed I can barely breathe. But then I hear your voice, not on the phone, but from the top of the mountain. And slowly, I rise up and take that next step.

Thanks for cheering me on, Mom.

I love you.

Happy Mother's Day.

Consider the Cause

Studies show that toxic mold found in water-damaged buildings has a negative impact on the health of individuals who work, study, and live in these buildings.

Our family's story attests to this reality.

The following 4-minute video features Dr. Michael Gray of Benson, Arizona. Dr. Gray is board certified in Occupational and Preventive Medicine and an expert in the field. He explains why it is crucial to consider the link between mold amplification and adverse health effects. He also elaborates on the need to consider the cause of an illness if we hope to prevent it.

Toxic Mold Story from an Anonymous Reader

Anonymous said... Hi There,

I hope your son starts feeling better soon, and stays better.

I am going through something similar right now. I am renting a house, moved in May of 2008. So far my daughter who is 2 has been constantly sick, cold, flu symptoms, sometimes high fever for no apparent reason. In October she had pneumonia which took two rounds of anti-biotics to get rid of. Then she was sick for 7 days with terrible cough and fever of 104 every night. The doctor said it was probably the flu (which it could be) But she has this persistant cough that is worse at night or when she is playing. She is now on two puffers, and they think it may be asthma.

When I moved in there was a leak in the attached garage which was supposed to be fixed. Well the leak was fixed three months later after a huge rain storm and the garage flooded. BUT, they did not remove the drywall and the mould just kept on growing and was a huge spot of black mould. We sent a sample to be tested and it came back with three different types of mold. Alternaria sp., Ulocladium Sp. and Stachybotrys Sp. (which is the bad one) I told the landlord he needed to remove this drywall and I wanted to see what was under it....well when he did the insullation was completely black and him and his brother both said, "It is dirt"...dirt yeah right. I told them that is mold, they said No it is dirt. Also I took pictures of the roof, there is no venting and no vapor barrier in some spots you could see the tar paper or shingle through a hole??

After he told me "No its dirt." I contacted Property Standards Officer (by-law) who came out to investigate and inspect. He ordered them to immediately, within 90 days remove all the moldy insullation, fix the crumbling fire rated drywall that is my masterbedroom wall and scrub, sand and treat the wood with mold resistant paint and then install vapour barrier.

Him and his brother came two weeks later and removed all the drywall and insullation. They had new insullation and drywall up that day!? So now I have no idea if it was even removed or vapour installed etc. I know that in the summer it gets really humid in the garage and I can just bet the mold will be back.

I'm also pretty sure its in the master bedroom wall, it comes partially over the garage. In the corner of my room I can smell a musty, earthy smell, especially in the summer when it's humid.

This is where my daughter and I have slept almost the full two years we have been here. I on now on my 5th sinus infection and we are no longer sleeping or using that room. I can't really afford to have a mold inspector come in to have a look and am afraid to cut a hole in my wall, because I don't want to release any more spores into the home.

I am moving out Feb 1st but my landlord said I need to pay him my last months rent even though I paid first and last. I have a friend who is a paralegal and is going to try and help me. But as far as I am concerned, I am not paying him the rent and I am getting out for my daughters and my health.

Any ideas on how I can check if there is mold in the master bedroom wall that is over the garage? Is there a special camera I can use???



That's what it comes down to in the end: pictures and family videos.

Chris drove 13 hours each way last week to retrieve our documents and most prized possessions. We're nearing the end of this Colorado chapter of our lives, ready to turn the page and begin again.

Since our home did not burn down, our possessions are still in our home. Beloved books, guitars, drums, journals, baby boxes, Christmas ornaments.

The medical crisis of recovery has helped distract us from the reality of lost items.

We held a family meeting. We no longer need to explain why we can't bring our things with us. The medical benefits of leaving our possessions are evident. We all agreed. Save the scrapbooks. Maybe we can scan the pages one day, with a mask, outside. The kids asked for one other thing--family videos.

Books would be next on the list. We each had our treasures. My mom's poetry book from high school. Reagan's Pendragon series. Megan's first edition Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Chris' Pat Conroy books signed by the author. Books aren't an option with stachybotrys. Books are some of the most porous things on Earth. We can't tolerate a library book, let alone a book from our old home.

Chris was the perfect one for the mission. Part of me wanted to see the home one last time, stand in the hallway, look at the pictures on the walls, feel all the memories of laughter, babies learning to walk, and birthday parties. I knew there would be haunting memories as well. Emergency Room trips, seizures, rashes, tempers, anxiety, confusion.

Here's how he described his venture into the house (wearing his chemical splash suit and mask):

It was cold and quiet in the house, but I was struck by how much life was still there, even though there was no sign of humanity. In the past I've been overcome by the sense of loss of our pets and all that we had done to make that house a home. This time I felt a sense of ache for the children. Their beds made or unmade, their dressers filled with clothes they'll never wear again, closets with DVDs of favorite movies they'll never see. Ryan's room was particularly hard to walk through. He had so many drums and posters on the wall of New York, his dream. Diaries left untouched where they lay.

I spent 3 hours gathering baby books and video tapes and car titles and social security cards and double bagging them outside in the heavy plastic bags contractors use. I stuffed them in Rubbermaid boxes and taped it all up.

The Rubbermaid boxes traveled with Chris back to our new life in Arizona. They sit quietly in the corner of the garage. It's nice to have them with us even if we can't look at them.

We'll see those scrapbook pages one day. Even if they're scanned. I have confidence.

Better yet, one day we'll see something bigger and better than those pages. I have faith.

For I know there's a bigger picture to our story. It's a picture that goes beyond our family, our home, and our health.

The best news? It can't be destroyed or tainted. By rust or moth. Or even toxic mold.

Fragrance the New Second-Hand Smoke?

The City of Detroit has been ordered to enact a new policy on fragrances, following a lawsuit by employee Susan McBride.

McBride issued a complaint requesting her superiors take action regarding a co-worker's perfume. McBride claimed the smell made it difficult for her to breath. When managers did nothing to address the situation, McBride sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act and won. She was awarded $100,000 and the city agreed to adopt a fragrance-free policy.

The city will post a notice on bulletin boards announcing, "Our goal is to be sensitive to employees with perfume and chemical sensitivities."

Further, the city will be asking employees to refrain from wearing scented products, including but not limited to colognes, after-shave lotions, perfumes, deodorants, body/face lotions, hair sprays or similar products.

I like commentator Danny Seo's perspective on this story:

While many of us are rolling our eyes over the insanity of this lawsuit, we shouldn't. According to New York magazine, a survey revealed that 74% of women have an allergic reaction to fragrance at least once in their lifetime. And it's easy to understand why: the volatile organic compounds (or VOC's) emitted by fragrance products can contribute to poor indoor air quality and are associated with a variety of adverse health effects, just like McBride's shortness of breath and overall sense of feeling ill. Just think about the last time you shared an elevator with someone reeking of perfume and covered your nose with your sleeve, or held your breath walking past an Abercrombie & Fitch store where employees are required to spray the store's signature scent into the air every 30 minutes.

Instead of banning fragrance altogether, the lesson we can learn from this lawsuit is simple: we need to learn the proper do's and don'ts when it comes to using scented products. Just as much as you wouldn't blow cigarette smoke into someone's face if you're a smoker, you shouldn't dose yourself with excessive fragrance.

Many people reapply fragrance throughout the day for two reasons: the scent changes throughout the day as the top, middle and bottom notes evaporate and because the wearer grows accustomed to the overall scent which the brain filters out as a background scent. While you may no longer smell your perfume, others around you will register the scent as a strong smell. Reapplying perfume only makes it more pungent.

The other problem with fragrances is a chemical called diethyl phthalate, or DEP, which is added to help dissipate perfume further. When you spray the perfume and breathe it in, it goes through your respiratory system and into your lungs. DEP has been found to be a possible cause of reproductive and developmental disorders, cancer, organ damage, childhood asthma, and allergies. Spraying perfume around others can unintentionally release DEP into the air and make others around you sick.

The solution is to wear less and apply at home. Choosing a solid perfume in a wax base is a good alternative since you can enjoy your favorite scent, but control the application by applying it directly to the skin. And a new fragrance trend is to look for USDA certified organic perfumes, which must contain at least 95% organic ingredients and no more than 5% proven safe ingredients that are also free of harsh artificial scents, DEP or other carcinogenic chemicals.

Clean clothes should smell like absolutely nothing, not like a field of lavender flowers. If you're clothes are coming out of the dryer smelling sweetly scented, there's a very good chance you've been overdosing your clothes. I've been working closely with the eco-friendly cleaning company Method for years as a consultant. This year, they launched a new product called Method Laundry in response to the detergent industry's guilty secret: consumers have no idea how much detergent to use to wash their clothes. A study conducted by Method showed that 53% of consumers "eyeball" it when pouring detergent and many consumers felt using a little bit extra detergent got clothes cleaner. Why is this bad? Because our washing machines are more efficient today and detergents are becoming more concentrated, a film of soap is often left on our clothes. Since detergent is designed to attract dirt, wearing overdosed clothing actually makes what you wear dirtier, quicker. Throughout the day, your overdosed clothes become a pungent mix of fragrance, odors and grime.

The solution is to use the right amount of detergent. Use a Sharpie to mark the inside of the detergent cap fill line; it's usually about ½ the cap. Or try Method Laundry's new product, which is 8X concentrated and uses a pumping system (like handsoap) to only deliver precise doses. Whatever you choose, just use less soap.

Have you ever ridden in a car oversaturated with the strong smell fragrance from those rearview mirror air fresheners? Or walked into a bathroom that was recently sprayed to mask the, um, lingering odor inside? Not only are these nauseating, but they can be incredibly unhealthy for you, too.

The problem with air fresheners---sprays, plug-ins and solids---is that they do nothing to actually address the cause of the odor. Instead, they cover them up with a chemical cocktail of artificial fragrances and oils that simply "coat" the inside of your nose or impair your olfactory senses so you simply cannot smell the offending odor.

The problem? Covering many of these odors prevents you from getting to the real root of the problem, which could be a mold or mildew infestation or something hidden that's rotting away.

Because our homes and office buildings are more energy efficient today, that means less outdoor air has as chance to get indoors. Over time, chemicals, odors and stale air builds up, which leads people to perfume the air with sprays and plug-ins. If you are able to, I suggest opening a window in the front and back of your workspace or home on a nice breezy day. This will cross-ventilate the entire space and safely flush out all of the toxins to create a clean, fresh space.

The other alternative is to look at naturally detoxifying products that kill or absorb odor-causing bacteria. One idea that goes back thousands of years is bamboo charcoal, which features millions of tiny holes that suck in excess moisture and odors. The small square packets of bamboo charcoal can be placed discreetly throughout any room to detoxify the air. New compact fluorescent lightbulbs from a company called Ionic Bulb also shows promise. The energy efficient CFL bulbs with ionic technology emits negative ions when lit that attaches to airborne pollutants to neutralize them.

Outside of perfumes and air fresheners, one comment I haven't read about the Detroit lawsuit is the use of indoor pesticides. If there's anything that's going to create an unhealthy work environment, it's insect control sprays. Pesticides are a tricky double-edged sword: yes, we know these sprays can create an unhealthy environment, but we also don't want our office or home crawling with ants, cockroaches and other insects.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that 75% of US households use at least one pesticide and that some 79,000 children were involved in common household pesticide poisonings or exposures. The problem with pesticides is that they are a mixture of both active and inert ingredients; the active agents designed to kill targeted insects, and the inert ones used as a carrying agent to disperse the insecticide. Ironically, it's the inert ingredients that are not toxic to the pests, but are harmful to us.

The EPA also reports conventional insecticides increase the VOC levels in the home and release airborne toxins from both the active and inert ingredients that can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat; damage to the central nervous system; and headaches, dizziness and nausea amongst a host of other ailments.

One company that is addressing the dangers of insecticides is EcoSmart, which studied the natural defense mechanisms found in plants that naturally repel insects. They discovered certain plants in nature are completely protected from invasive insects and mimicked the essential oil blends found in these plants to create the first all-organic insecticide line. EcoSmart uses a patented blend of both active and inert organic ingredients that kill and repel targeted insects, but are so safe, you could actually eat them. Now if EcoSmart would only create a room spray, perfume and plug-in, maybe we can find peace in the city of Detroit.

To read Danny Seo's complete commentary, see this article.

An example of a compelling school policy on fragrance-free products is the Crescent School scented product and allergen notice. Collegiate Crescent is a 7-12 public school in Newfoundland.