Not wearing any perfume?


My raw throat is closing, my heart racing, and my head fuzzy from the fumes emanating from my dear friend.  She knows I’m very sensitive to chemicals.

“I stopped wearing perfume a long time ago after I found out that it makes some people sick,” she says.

What do I say?

What I’m thinking is this:

The fragrance in your laundry products is just as toxic as any perfume you would spray on.  In fact it can be even more problematic because there is no way to control the amount of fragrance that ends up on your clothes and it is very difficult to ever get it to wash out.  All of your clothes and linens are now drenched in it, so there is no way for you to decide to be “fragrance free” for a day so you can come visit me without making me ill.  The companies that sell laundry products have been progressively ramping up the amounts of fragrance in their products because they know that it is not how well the product works that sells it, but how it smells.  As a result, the products we have now are far more toxic and irritating than they were in the past.  But this has gone practically unnoticed by people like you because you have become so accustomed to living in a cloud of chemical fumes that your sense of smell has become dulled.  So you can’t tell that at this very moment your clothes are outgassing enormous amounts of the sick-making fragrance that you think you are not wearing.  And now I’m sick.

What I say is: “Oh well, everything makes me sick now.  Don’t worry about it.”

Because I love my friend.

But the truth is that my friend is putting herself at risk.  Just because she does not have obvious symptoms as soon as she smells laundry detergent or other chemicals does not mean they are not affecting her.  She has chronic health problems that could very well be related to the toxic personal care and cleaning products that she uses, but she will never be able to discern that this is the case unless she purges her home of all toxic chemicals so that she knows how it feels to breathe clean air.

So how loving is it of me to avoid telling the truth?  I avoid it to keep the peace.  But meanwhile my friends suffer and I suffer.  So here it is.  The truth:

Laundry detergent and fabric softener is not harmless.  Neither is anything else that has chemical fragrance added to it.  You may not have sprayed perfume on this morning, but that lotion on your hands is pungent.  And your hairspray even more so.  Your fabric softener-impregnated clothes compete with your lotion and your hairspray to create a toxic soup that makes me choke.   And it’s terrible for you too.  Now you know.

Next comes the inevitable question: then what can I use?   Everything has fragrance.  Well no, not everything.  Most things.  Yes, it’s hard at first to switch to a more natural and non-toxic lifestyle, but it can be done.  And once you’ve got your routine down, it becomes second nature.  Following are some links to guides on how to choose healthier products:

Environmental Working Group’s consumer guides:  consumer guides

Debra Lynn Dadd’s list:  Debra’s list

Wellness Mama’s tips and recipes for a non-toxic home:  Wellness Mama





Linking MCS and Autism

Whenever I hear that a friend is having a new baby, I’m happy for them. But I also cringe, knowing that the baby will probably be exposed to large amounts of toxicants in things like new paint and carpet in the nursery, scented laundry and personal care products, and cleaning chemicals. Here are some good, practical suggestions on how to reduce your baby’s chemical exposures and prevent illness.

John Molot


Young women need to listen to the canaries

I’m in my 60s now, ten years into my second marriage, and my wife and I have six children between us. We are at a stage in life when our children are having babies and our friends and relatives of the same age are also becoming grandparents.  When we hear the exciting news – that we’re expecting a new grandchild – the combined feeling of joy and excitement is hard to describe, which helps to suppress the unspeakable worry; that the baby might be born with less than good health. And we have good reason for concern, because developmental disorders now affect one in six children.

Conditions like autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affect almost 2% of children, which is 8 times higher than in the 90’s. Look at the following graph. What’s going on?


Some people blame the increase in ASD…

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Can We?


It is a horrible fact that we can read in the daily paper, without interrupting our breakfast, numerical reckonings of death and destruction that ought to break our hearts or scare us out of our wits.  This brings us to an entirely practical question: Can we–and if we can, how can we–make actual in our minds the sometimes urgent things we say we know?  This obviously can not be accomplished by a technological breakthrough, nor can it be accomplished by a big thought.  Perhaps it cannot be accomplished at all. – Wendell Berry, The Jefferson Lecture

So can we?  Who really can wrap their heads around the collective and massive agony of a planet gone mad?  And even if we could, would we be capable of the herculean effort that it would require to correct the situation?  Do we even know how?  And even if we did, how many people would care enough?

And is it even up to us?  The Bible says that it isn’t:

I well know, O Jehovah, that man’s way does not belong to him. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step. – Jeremiah 10:23

So what does God really expect of us?  Do we just stand by and watch as the world goes up in smoke?

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”+37  He said to him: “‘You must love Jehovah* your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul* and with your whole mind.’+ 38  This is the greatest and first commandment. 39  The second, like it, is this: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’+ 40  On these two commandments the whole Law hangs, and the Prophets.”+ – Matthew 22: 36-40

So, although God promises to step in and handle the things that we cannot fix on our own, he has always expected people to show love.  Most of what destroys and hurts people and other living beings is behavior that is the opposite of love.  We can, as Gandhi so famously said, “be the change” we wish to see in the world as we wait patiently for God’s intervention.

Why are we unable to stop the destruction?

Will Man Ruin the Earth Beyond Repair?

Simplicity of Wellness

Johann Hari’s Take on Addiction – It’s Not What you May Think

I want to make clear that, although the issue of drug abuse is  highly politicized, I do not mean to take a stance on the drug war by posting this article.  What interests me about it is Mr. Hari’s very interesting opinion on what actually causes addiction.  There seems to be quite a lot of evidence to suggest that it’s not what most of us have been taught to believe it is.  Yes, addictive substances can be dangerous, without a doubt.  But what makes the difference between the strung out addict who has repeatedly overdosed and the user who doesn’t seem to have been harmed, and even seems to be able to quit at will?  It may be as simple as this: connection.

Although I believe that genetics and nutrition also play a large role, I also believe that Johann Hari makes a very good point.

The Vital Lie

Photo by Majd Mohabek via Flickr creative commons

Photo by Majd Mohabek via Flickr creative commons

“The Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen coined the phrase “vital lie” for the comforting story we tell ourselves that hides a more painful truth.  When it comes to the full costs of ecological ignorance in the marketplace, we endorse the vital lie what we don’t know or can’t see does not matter.”  – Daniel Goleman
Our world is undergoing unprecedented change.  For the first time in history, man, through his activities, has become a serious threat to the continued existence of life as we know it on planet earth.  In his book, Ecological Intelligence: The Hidden Impacts of What We Buy, Daniel Goleman highlights one of the many challenges to change, and that is our inability to perceive ecological damage as an imminent threat.  This makes it easy for people to believe “the vital lie” that because they can’t see or feel the damage, can’t perceive a threat, that it doesn’t matter, or even that it doesn’t exist.
“Psychophysicists use the term “just noticeable difference” to describe the merest amount of shift our senses can detect in sensory signals like pressure or volume.  the ecological changes that signal impending danger are sub-threshold, too subtle to register in our sensory systems at all.  We have no ready-made detectors for, nor instinctive response to, these hazy sources of harm.  The human brain adapted to spot dangers within its sensory field.  But to survive today we must perceive threats that are beyond our threshholds for perceptions.  We must make the invisible visible.” – Daniel Goleman, Ecological Intelligence
But there are people who are so exquisitely sensitive to chemical and electromagnetic exposures that they seem to have almost superhuman abilities to detect toxins with the potential to harm humans, animals and the earth as a whole.  I believe that these people, at least to some extent, may represent an exception to the rule spoken of above. It seems to be the assumption of many, even sufferers of chemical sensitivity themselves, that the chronically ill are maladapted to our world.  But if looked at through the lens of ecological destruction, just the opposite may be true.  Those who know they are ill from the toxins in our environment have adopted the name canaries in the coalmine because they believe they are a warning to the rest of the world.  They live each day unavoidably aware of the damage to our planet.  They feel environmental damage in their lungs,  joints, muscles,  brains.  They feel the pain of the destruction like no others.  For them, Toto has pulled aside the curtain so that they can see the humbug wizard behind the madness of our world.  They exist in an alternate reality not seen by others, and it can be maddening.  The world is burning, but though they scream fire at the top of their lungs,  the audience is mostly deaf.
No, canaries are not maladapted, they are hyper-adapted.
 When a person is aware of what and where pollution is,  and is also aware of the fact that they are indeed being made ill by pollution, there are certain things that they are unlikely to do.  They would be unlikely, for example, sit in a moldy house drenched in artificial fragrance and toxic cleaning chemicals and wonder why round after round of antibiotics doesn’t clear up their repeated sinus infections.  They probably would not wear clothes reeking of fabric softener while wondering why their asthma keeps getting worse.  They would not own a vehicle with a leak in the gas line and wonder why they have migraines every time they go anywhere.  They would not spray their yards with Roundup and then wonder why they just cannot get well.   They just wouldn’t do those things.
The problem with being a member of a group of people who are hyper-adapted to a toxic world is just this: they are a minority.  For now.  And because they are a minority, it means that the pollution proceeds unabated.  It means that because the destruction is “beyond the threshhold for perception” of most people, canaries will often be viewed as crazy malingerers.   It means that no matter how many adjustments to their lives that they make, they will never completely escape the pollutants that are making them ill.  It means isolation.  It means frustration.  It means heartbreak.
So what is the answer?  It is Daniel Goleman’s contention that if more people begin using their cerebral cortex to make decisions about what’s dangerous and what’s not rather than relying on their amygdalas, that we might have a chance to turn this ship around.  We just need to get the word out, he says.  I disagree.  Our best efforts will continue to fail.  The cards are stacked against us because those with the most money and the most power seem for the most part to be guided not by accurate information coupled with altruism, but by greed.  They are morally bankrupt.  This will not change because all the good ideas and good intentions in the world cannot root greed out of the heart of man.
I’m a Christian.  And as such, I do not believe that we are alone in this.  I believe the bible when it says that God will “bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” (Revelation 11:18)   I believe Jesus when he said that the “meek… shall inherit the earth”. (Matthew 5:5 KJV)
So if I’m right, if it’s true that God is going to stop us from annihilating ourselves, does that absolve Christians of the responsibility to care for the earth?  No, far from it. Wendell Berry wrote that we“have no right to destroy what we did not create.”  God did not put us here to become a plague, but to care for and protect our home. (Genesis 1:28)  And aside from that, it is the responsibility of all Christians to imitate their God who is love.  Love should guide all of our actions.  Wasting resources, polluting the air and water, spreading garbage everywhere, and generally making ourselves pests is far from loving.

“Violence against one is ultimately violence against all. The willingness to abuse other bodies is the willingness to abuse one’s own. To damage the earth is to damage your children.” – The Body and the Earth, by Wendell Berry

What can we do?
 We can refuse to believe “the vital lie”.  We can pull our heads out of the sand and educate ourselves.  We can make a genuine effort, once we know better, to do better.  We can believe those who feel the pollution in their bodies, the canaries.  We can refuse to  do avoidable harm.    It matters.