Chemical Sensitivity & Tinies
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is a condition which is at this time poorly understood. At its most basic, it is a negative physical reaction to a chemical compound, often airborne, but also by contact or ingestion. Common triggers are VOCs (volatile organic compounds) such as toluene, formaldehyde, and benzene, but pesticides used domestically and in warfare can act as sensitizers and triggers, and in others, the triggers are unknown*. VOCs can also be natural in origin and usually do not cause problems unless a person has been highly sensitized (such as the aromatic oils found in cedar, fir and pine), so the VOCs we mention are ones that are either artificially produced or in concentrations which do not occur naturally.
As the sensitizing chemical, triggers and symptoms are different depending on the individual, Western medicine has written off MCS as a condition caused by a lack of anti-depressive drugs rather than seeing it for what it is; those that suffer from MCS are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, signalling the trouble ahead with our wonton use of novel compounds, often fossil-fuel based, in every aspect of our lives. Not everyone handles such novel compounds well, especially at the unprecedented levels to which we are currently exposed in America. The average American is largely ignorant of the ubiquitous use of man-made chemicals in their environment, and when they are confronted with the reality, the information is heavy and much more easily dismissed than assimilated. Studies in mice have shown that those which are exposed to high levels of VOCs are more likely to develop cancer as well as airborne allergy, and studies of lines of mice bred to mimic humans with MCS have been found to have genetically-mediated decreased enzyme function in their livers, which act to detoxify and eliminate foreign compounds in all mammals. (Ever noticed how some people turn red in the face when they drink alcohol and some people can drink like a fish with no problems? Yep, it’s all due to differences in liver enzyme function.) As it happens, one of us suffers from MCS as well as other autoimmune diseases, and happens to object to being told she is mentally imbalanced when she reacts to nasty chemicals, especially formaldehyde. Our tiny house, therefore, is as artificial chemical-free as possible. Minimal fossil fuels and their derivatives in plastics, adhesives, tar compounds, paints and finishes are used. And to put it more positively, more glass, whole wood, copper, steel, wool and cotton are being used, which makes a house both beautiful and healthy.
*For those with a medical background:
It was previously thought that Th-1 and Th-2, along with B cells were the main lymphocytes in both cell-mediated and humoral immunity, with an increase in Th-2 activity (also known as Th-2 dominance) and their associated cytokines as the sole culprits in chronic autoimmune conditions such as asthma, IBD, hay fever and eczema; we are now finding that Th-17 activity is upregulated in auto-immune conditions as well. With upregulated Th-17 and Th-2 cycles, Th-1 activity is unduly suppressed, which can leave sufferers susceptible to actual threats such as viruses and bacteria. Interestingly, Th-17 affects nitric oxide levels within the body, and nitric oxide/peroxynitrite is generally upregulated in MCS, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia, PTSD and Gulf War Syndrome, all of which are at this time diseases with little effective treatment (beyond psychoactive medication) and, with the exception of GWS, of unknown etiology. Preliminary research has shown, however, that all these conditions are characterized by a vicious nitric oxide/peroxynitrite cycle, sometimes by upregulated NMDA receptor activity, triggered in some cases by a specific excitotoxin (i.e. pesticides in the case of GWS), others by infection or severe stress. In my personal experience, nitrates/nitrites used in processed meats, as well as flavonoids found in such things as apple peels and chocolate actually make my symptoms worse. This can be explained by their effects on Th-2, Th-17 and/or nitric oxide levels within the body.
Resources we have found helpful:
– Pharos Project, a group seeking to publish actual chemical content of various building materials. Since carcinogenic/allergenic/nasty content is actually protected by the Trade Secret Act regardless of health risks (just like plastic!), they ask for voluntary information from the manufacturers, and when they can’t obtain that, they provide educated guesses. They give ratings on VOCs, environmental and personal health risks, as well as renewability or organic source usage. Will scare the pee-waddin’ out of you. www.pharosproject.net
-Prescriptions for a Healthy House: A Practical Guide for Architects, Builders & Homeowners by Paula Baker-Laporte includes essays and articles by building biologists, architects, and doctors who don’t believe MCS is mere superstitition. Still haven’t quite figured out that the best method is not to engineer their way out of nasty artificial products but to just use natural stuff in the first place, but a great book to read nonetheless.
–www.mychemicalfreehouse.blogspot.ca/ A tiny house blog by a fellow MCS sufferer in Canada
–http://www.safespotcottages.com/ A tiny house builder and MCS sufferer in Washington
– And on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, from a professor of biochemistry, who is also a MCS sufferer