Wednesday, 29 Sep 1999

Rhinebe
ck, N.Y.

I am waffling over whether to write about what happened to me today. Fresh, personal, and painful stories can be a recipe for bad writing. I have finally decided to go ahead because, well, I am writing a diary for Grist Magazine this week, and today’s day is a momentous one for me, my own story of chemical injury, and my family.

As with others who have multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), I have been on a long road of unraveling how I became sick (it happened in 1980) and searching for every opportunity to get better. In this quest, I have recently had the opportunity to be tested on an acubiofeedback computer. Discussing this machine is out of the scope of a short diary entry so I won’t, but I will say that the computer has a powerful database of viruses, heavy metals, pesticides, parasites, and other horrible items many of our bodies are burdened with, and by assessing one’s acupressure points, the machine gives a reading of the stresses on your body. Another database is full of remedies, and the computer finds the one best for you. I’ve found the analysis almost spooky in its accuracy, and profoundly helpful.

In unraveling the etiology of my MCS, I know that in 1980 the apartment building my husband and I lived in was exterminated for ants or termites, I’ve never known with what. Coinciding with that event, I — a person who had always been robustly healthy — went into a serious clinical depression. Three months later the apartment building was exterminated again, and a few days later I committed myself to Yale New Haven Psychiatric Center with violent impulses, atypical manic symptoms, and the blackest of black depressions. I stayed there for three months, to be released without anyone really knowing what had happened to me. Thanks to the detective work of my sister, a year later I was diagnosed with MCS by doctors in environmental medicine. We moved, and I was able to begin some modicum of recovery.

I tried to find out what the pesticide was that got me so sick, but the landlord didn’t know, and I never did track it down. I assumed Dursban, a highly neurotoxic pesticide that has since been taken off the market for use in buildings. A lot of people with MCS got sick from Dursban. I was always quite sure my poisoning hadn’t been from chlordane; chlordane victims I know tend to have serious cognitive disorders.

Chlordane is an organochlorine pesticide in the family of DDT, and it is blamed for causing a whole host of illnesses including leukemia, liver cancer, immune disorders, neurological problems, testicular damage, endocrine disruption, and blood damage. Chlordane was used to treat 30 million homes (according to the EPA) for termites from the 1950s until 1988; homes treated even 30 or 40 years ago still have unsafe chlordane levels.

By now I’m sure you’re guessing what showed up today on “the machine.” Yup — chlordane. It was so deep in me that it went deeper than the maximum the computer could read. I just learned today, 19 years after the event, that I am a chlordane victim after all.

But it doesn’t stop with me. I got well enough to have a child, and I breast-fed her for one full year. All that milk I gave her, contaminated with chlordane. I carried her in my body for a long, long time! And my husband, who was never “clinical” from the poisoning, was certainly contaminated from that apartment. I guess I was lucky to have been away in a psychiatric hospital for three of those months.

This is my universe. Our Stolen Future on my doorstep.

I have faith that the acubiofeedback machine will help us detox, but first I need some expert help for my daughter that probably doesn’t exist: Is it safe for a ten-year-old girl to detox from an organochlorine pesticide, when her breasts are budding?

Note: Tests to determine if your house is contaminated with chlordane are available for $100 from ToxFree, Inc. (800.704.1662).