Tuscany Sun Editorial – February 10

What’s The Sense Worrying About Scents?

Last month, one of our residents wrote in about the fact that scent from dryer vents can be found everywhere and that this was affecting the quality of the air he, and others, are breathing.  A number of residents responded positively but more weighed in that they are tired of hearing people complain, especially about something as ridiculously inane as bounce sheets.

People who know me know that I tend to be pretty levelheaded. I don’t like jumping to conclusions, being reactionary or alarmist (not that I don’t slip up, sometimes!). But this issue of scents and untested chemicals being introduced into our environment scares me; really scares. It scares me because I’ve been woken up to an invisible threat by an “environmental barometer” in my life; my mother.

After decades of not “feeling well” with various symptoms of chronic pain, colitis, fatigue, muscle and nerve pain, migraines, persistent cold-like symptoms, memory loss and mood alterations, my mother suffered an almost total collapse of her immune system and was fully diagnosed with environmental sensitivity disorder. In short, her body goes into acute distress when she is exposed to some chemicals, especially those that are petroleum-based. She’s not alone. She is one of a growing trend of people that are being seen in many industries (healthcare being one of them and the industry she’d worked in since she was 16) and this illness is one of the many triggers behind the growth in environmental medicine. These people are the frogs of the human ecosystem – our environmental barometers – and are probably serving as a warning to everyone around us, if we’re ready to hear the message. In my mother’s case, she is now at the stage where she’s stable with treatment and with keeping her exposure to the majority of synthetic chemicals to a minimum but, when she comes to visit me, she usually can’t go out for a walk or garden with me in my yard because, if anyone is doing something as normal as drying their laundry, she is likely to go into anaphylactic shock. I know it sounds crazy but this is her life.

Before you stop reading because the extremeness of my mother’s illness indicates it has nothing to do with us and what we are choosing to put into our day-to-day environment, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned that’s made it easy to change what I bring into my home and, in particular, why I am careful about what my two children are exposed to.

The chemical industry is producing approximately 1000 new chemicals per year and few ever get tested. Concern is arising not necessarily due to exposure to one chemical but due to the combinations of chemicals that we are mixing (synergistic effects) and to the long-term affects of low exposure (cumulative). When I started to investigate these facts and looked at what I had in my home, I found that I was buying products that contained known (not maybe) carcinogens, respiratory irritants, reproductive disruptors and neurotoxins, to name just a few. On the heels of starting my research, The Nature of Things aired the “Toxic House” documentary and one part in particular has always stayed with me. An industrial air quality monitoring system was installed in a number of “normal” households. This system is used in industry to monitor air quality and, if it becomes hazardous to humans, the alarm rings and evacuation of the site ensues. In each of the houses, this system began to sound on every cleaning day due to the levels and combinations of chemicals that were entering the household environment. It was a huge illustrator to me that the very products I was using to keep things smelling fresh, make my home 99.9% germ free and spotless and, most of all, safe for me and my family were products that were quite possibly doing my family the most harm.

Here’s a list of a few of the toxins that can be found in any home on any day:

o       Aspartame (artificial sweetener) – neurotoxin

o       Styrene (found in all Styrofoam) – carcinogen

o       Phthalates (found in most plastic, including most toys) – carcinogen, neurotoxin, reproductive system effects

o       Benzene (perfumes, hairspray, shampoo, air fresheners, etc) – carcinogen

o       Toluene (artificial vanilla scent) – carcinogen, respiratory irritant

o       Silica (cleaners, powdered drinks) – carcinogen, respiratory irritant

o       BHT (plastic, food) – carcinogen, immune disruptor

o       Carbon disulfide (dry cleaning) – neurotoxin, carcinogen

Some Facts That Worry Me:

o       1 in 2 males will develop cancer

o       1 in 3 females will develop cancer

o       Respiratory illness is the #1 reason for children being admitted to hospitals; rates of childhood asthma have increased 400%

o       Outside of injury, cancer is the leading cause of death in children between the ages of 5 and 9

o       Unprecedented numbers of fatal allergies are being diagnosed – dairy, bees, peanuts, strawberries, fish, etc.

o       Cancer specialists are now suggesting the leading causes for many forms of cancer may be environmental contamination.

 What I Choose To Do
I choose to limit my exposure to these products, with scents being only one area my family and I have targeted. Based on my family’s experience with increased health and well-being by eliminating these products from our lives and replacing them with naturally-based and safe products (which are so much more available than even 5 years ago), I am a firm believer that the more heavily marketed products being used in most households are a root cause of either our health or , rather, our lack of it.

In our not too distant past, parents sent their children running after DDT trucks so the powder would protect them from harmful mosquitoes. Doctors and patients didn’t fully understand how harmful it would be to use antibiotics for everything and anything. Smoking was seen as a cool past time and something that would keep you slim. People happily swam in the rivers and streams that industry was dumping its toxic waste into. Seems crazy, but that was life. But, in the not too distant future, I know (I hope) that we will all have become aware of what mass marketing and mass consumer acceptance of products that are dangerous to our health do to us all and we will think it’s crazy that products containing carcinogens and neurotoxins were ever on our shelves, let alone in our homes. It’s not just about bounce sheets, at least not to me. It’s about educating ourselves and then making informed choices that help us to breathe easy. A never-ending process, it seems.


Editor, Tuscany Sun

 A Few Resources:

The Nature of Things – Toxics
Market Place – A Toxic Brew    
Market Place – Chasing the Cancer Answer 
Health Canada – New Chemical Substances 
42 Toxic Chemicals and Their Effects

10 thoughts on “Tuscany Sun Editorial – February

  • STM

    As a new resident in this wonderful community, I was excited to see the Tuscany Sun appear in my mailbox yesterday. I looked forward to reading about the ongoings in the community, and hoped to gain insight into issues that affect the community as a whole.

    As such, I was surprised, literally to the point of laughing out loud, at the above editorial. While I am sympathetic to the plight of the author’s mother, is the issue of dryer sheet odour really an issue worth worrying about?

    I would caution the author against making claims such as, “The chemical industry is producing approximately 1000 new chemicals per year and few ever get tested.” This is misleading and disingenuous.

    While the number may be factual (the author did not include a reputable academic source, so there is no way of verifying this claim) not all or perhaps any of those 1,000 “chemicals” are ever used in a household context.

    “Chemicals” put in household products are rigorously tested by government and non-government agencies to ensure they are reasonably safe for use.

    I put the word “chemical” in quotations because the author’s use of the word as a pejorative is also misleading. It must be remembered that everything in one’s home can be considered a “chemical”: water, table salt, baking soda and soap can all be properly called “chemicals”.

    I must also take issue with the paragraph that begins, “Some facts that worry me.” There are no citations of academic journals to back up these claims. If one is going to write a list of statements and call them facts, she must inform the reader from where this information comes so the reader can verify their accuracy.

    To publish such an inflammatory and unverifiable editorial is highly irresponsible, not to mention inappropriate for a community newsletter. The Tuscany Sun should stick to news involving the community of Tuscany and its residents, and not to unscientific, unsubstantiated claims presented without proper references.

    • Thomas Ashby

      I am the original writer who wrote about my experience with dryer sheet odour around Tuscany. I see that it is a sticky issue. BUT, aside from the more in depth thoughts about physical intolerance and “allergic reactions” and the whole chemical industry, it was not my intention to explore that. My only “beef” was the smell. The rediculous perfumy smell that makes my lengthy walks less than pleasant. Not long ago right in my own backyard on a cold and still day my nose was so assaulted with a concentration, I actually tasted the bitterness !

      Why can’t people use unscented dryer sheets? Perhaps because the supply isn’t nearly enough? Perhaps many just don’t care? Perhaps many have been brainwashed into thinking that…. Geeeze, it really is clean smelling! Just like the commercial says it is !

      Anyway, I shutter to think what the sum total situation is all around Calgary. It’s the same kind of issue as leaving cars idling when they don’t have to be idling.

  • Vivian Lautermilch

    Dear Michelle,
    Having raised four children with allergies, I understand very well the dilemma of environmental factors causing allegies. However, tackling the entire environment as you suggest is a monumental and impossible task. What you have overlooked, I think, is that allergies are very individual. What is harmful to your mother may not affect anyone else, or very few people. I wonder if you have considered the toxic effect the Tuscany Sun may have on some people. When I picked up my mail today, the entire mail room reeked with the odor of the magazine, probably caused by the ink used to print it.
    It is sad that so many people suffer from allergies; but creating an environment safe for all is an impossibility.

  • Eric Collins

    Firstly, I support a (moderated) blog like this where community residents can air their opinions. It is better than the slow dialogue that takes place in the Tuscany Sun.

    Secondly, when I write I usually reference my material, or at least know the source so when called on it, I can produce it.

    Although Michelle failed to reference her information, I have no doubt she knows what she is talking about; considering that environmental impacts have a direct impact on someone she loves, she probably has read a fair bit on the matter.

    Letters to the Editor and editorials, in my opinion, do not need to be academically researched. They are emotional pieces, such as the piece written by STM, who failed to provide a cogent counter-argument and instead spent their time attacking the original author. In fact, Michelle DID quote some of her sources. The “Toxic House” documentary as a part of the “Nature of Things” series by David Suzuki being one of them found easily enough at CBC at http://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/features.html#

    It is the attitude of people like STM (and occasionally I am in that group) with no direct experience who do not appreciate that those Bounce dryer sheets can actually make someone sick. My wife has allergies to some unknown industrial chemicals, one of them being a particular brand of liquid dish soap.

    So yes, even soap is a potential allergic irritant as it contains chemicals, even though STM seems to discount it. STM uses the word “reasonably” safe and that is correct. Most people are not affected by it. But some are.

    This is why smoking is banned in public now. It is known to be bad for anyone in its vicinity, although people like STM scoffed at that as few as 20 years ago, demanding scientific studies. Well they’re out now.

    We need to live with our neighbours, and if my neighbours told me my bounce dryer sheets were causing them allergic reactions, I would cease using them. Do I need to worry about the person walking by my house on the sidewalk? Well, I do – that’s why I shovel the sidewalk after it snows.

    Michelle has opened my eyes to a problem. Can I use something other than bounce sheets? Yes I can. It simply takes a shift in thinking and habits to do so. In fact, I gave up bounce sheets after we had a child as her skin is a bit sensitive.

    By the way, I was “one of those kids” running after the mosquito fog truck spraying out whatever chemicals they did every week down our back alley.

  • CL

    Editorials are just that editorials. They are supposed to generate conversation and open up people to other ideas. Michelle has done that with this subject!

    I am one of “those” people that try to live a fairly (artificial) scent free life. Although I do not react to the artificial perfumes, I don’t care to be exposed to them. There are some evenings that the odors being emitted by dryer vents is overpowering and take away from the natural smells around us. Do I think this is going to change? No, but maybe some people will be made aware of this and choose a more natural option or maybe some people did not realize how much scent they were venting out into the street.

    I appreciate having a way to get the community talking, good or bad. This new website is a great resource to communicate. We all have the right to our opinions and to agree or disagree, but at least we can discuss the issues. Rather than “attacking” the opinion we can express our point of view.


  • tuscanycommunityassociation

    Comment from Ashley (GreenCalgary.org) Via Email:
    “The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reported that fragrances account for 30% of all allergic reactions, and 70% of asthmatics develop respiratory difficulties when exposed to perfumes. Other symptoms arising from exposure to fragrances include headaches, dizziness, rashes, skin irritation and discolouration, as well as coughing and vomiting. Debra Lynn Dadd, author of Home Safe Home, writes, “Clinical observations by medical doctors have shown that exposure to fragrances can affect the central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity, irritability, inability to cope, and other behavioral changes.”

    Comment from Cathy via Email:
    I cannot thank you enough for writing the article about “worrying about scents”. I said “wow, someone really understands this”. About 15 years ago I started experiencing a reaction to fragrances immediate head ache and nausea). My doctor told me that I had developed an allergy to “man made, synthetic, petroleum based ingredients” that are in most scented products today. Just last week, the church that I attend installed industrial strength fragrance dispensers in the washrooms. Within days people started to express concerns, and they were removed immediately. The same thing happened at the school that I worked at.

    Allergy to “scents” is the fastest growing allergy in the world today. It is a very real thing, and I thank you for explaining the issue, in the manner in which you did.

    Comment from Susan via Email:
    Thank you so much for your editorial regarding scents. I find that I am one of those that sits on the side of the fence that does NOT support scents from dryer vents. I do not have a diagnosis but I know what my body tells me. I am sensitive to a variety of scents from tobacco smoke, wood burning fire smoke, perfume, insense, exhaust from cars. I get migraines and even become nauseous. I guess I’m saying I understand. I wish you and your mother well.

  • Arkose

    A friend forwarded this editorial to me as I don’t live in Tuscany and my first reaction was – WOW what a progressive community newsletter … I wish my community had something like this.

    Then I was a bit shocked to read STM’s comments – Seriously?! Ok I I agree with STM that “chemical” is a bit of a loose term but if you want to be informed you have to do your own research, convince yourself. Just referencing a scientific paper does not validate anyones claims. You can spin any scientific paper to tell the story you want it to tell. Plus giving a reference is enough for most people – they won’t fact check any farther. For example – look at what happened with climate scientists and the hockey stick graph … it took one curious person who tried to duplicate the results – to debunk the whole thing.
    or you can read this Mark Steyn article and what he found when he actually followed a “citation to an academic journal” all the way back to it’s source. http://www2.macleans.ca/category/opinion/mark-steyn-opinion/

    Go to the Source: Visit the National Toxicology Program Website: http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov

    The National Toxicology Program (NTP) is a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services program that provides information about potentially toxic chemicals. Their reports are available to the public and are used by the Canadian Cancer Society and numerous other agencies. Anytime you hear someone claim it is a “Known Carcinogen” or “Reasonably Anticipated to be a Human Carcinogen”. It is from this group as they publish the “Report on Carcinogens”

    As for STM cautioning Michele “against making claims such as, “The chemical industry is producing approximately 1000 new chemicals per year and few ever get tested.” This is misleading and disingenuous.”

    Actually it is conservative.
    At the a NTP website (http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/?objectid=7201637B-BDB7-CEBA-F57E39896A08F1BB) they report:

    “an estimated 2,000 new ones are introduced for use in such everyday items as foods, personal care products, prescription drugs, household cleaners, and lawn care products. We do not know the effects of many of these chemicals on our health, yet we may be exposed to them while manufacturing, distributing, using, and disposing of them or when they become pollutants in our air, water, or soil. Relatively few chemicals are thought to pose a significant risk to human health. However, safeguarding public health depends on identifying both what the effects of these chemicals are and at what levels of exposure they may become hazardous to humans—that is, understanding their toxicology.”
    If you look further at how long it takes for the NTP to test a chemical to determine if it is a Carcinogen … you will quickly discover we will never catch up.

    In the “Report on Carcinogens” Silica. Toluene and Benzene (as mentioned by Michelle) are all listed as “known human Carcinogens” – on the NTF site you can download full subtance profiles (1-2 pages each) and you can determine for yourself if those products (in their appropriate forms, as some things are carcinogenic in one form but not in another) are in something you use and YOU CAN DECIDE if you want to use or not use it. For example Tamoxifen is a cancer treatment drug but is also a known carcinogen – a patient may still choose to take the drug because they hope the benefits outweigh the risks. Just inform yourself.

    The Canadian Cancer Society has a comprehensive site on Cancer Myths, Cancer Statistics & Prevention. They have a whole section on Pthalates (read it and you can decide) http://www.cancer.ca/Alberta-NWT/Prevention/Specific%20environmental%20contaminants/Phthalates.aspx?sc_lang=en&r=1

    I completely agree with Eric, editorials are to make you think and don’t need to be referenced – if you are curious about the claims – then do the research yourself (or you can just jump on the bandwagon like everyone else or better yet laugh out loud and dismiss the claims as an overreaction). If you do decide to do some research, you’ll quickly discover IGNORANCE IS BLISS.

    I’d also recommend the DVD series National Geographics “Strange Days on Planet Earth” – available at the Calgary Library or you can view all 4 videos on Google Videos


  • Heather

    Well, I am very allergic (causes asthma attacks, and difficulty breathing) to second hand smoke and car exhaust. I highly doubt in my life time those will be banned. So I have learned to live with it, as there is nothing I can do, it is my problem.

  • Larissa Roque

    I think it’s great that the writer has used the Bounce sheet dilemma as a springboard to a bigger environmental issue. I agree there are many household chemicals we use today for cleaning our homes that we should not be using or that we could find alternative products for, ie: lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda, etc.
    Having said that, lets look at why there are so many cases of allergies and weak immune system-related health issues. Maybe it’s what we’re putting into our mouth that’s the problem. Buying locallly-grown produce from farmer’s markets is one way to go (better nutrional value than “picked green” produce coming from elsewhere). Another way is to limit or do away with eating meat. There are plenty of hormones, antibiotics and who knows what else fed to cattle, chickens and pigs in order to get them to grow fast enough and bulky enough to feed our voracious appetite for meat. This is one reason why much needed antibiotics no longer work properly when your child is sick and needs the medicine. Since this blog seems to read like an environmental awareness page, I thought it would be prudent of me to throw my two cents in. Oh, and before anyone writes that the Canadian cattle industry is very well regulated and hormones, etc. are not fed to our cattle, let me just say that I am 100% sure not all of us stick to eating Canadian beef only. Most times, we don’t even know where it comes from. I’ve given up eating meat again and I have never felt better (and lighter, for all of you who want to lose a couple of pounds).

    Respectfully submitted.

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