Friday 2 September 2011

The stink

I've written before (with barely concealed mirth) about the twin neuroses of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Electrosensitivity. These are two would-be diseases involving people who believe they are allergic to the modern world. Perfumes, wi-fi, electricity, detergents, smoke of any kind, etc. The champions of these syndromes are particularly obsessed with fragrances. Readers of Velvet Glove, Iron Fist—of whom I hope and trust you are one—will remember these folks as the "no scents is good sense" people.

Although the two syndromes are totally different, with one involving chemical 'toxins' supposedly affecting the lungs and the other involving electrical waves affecting the brain, people who suffer from one have a remarkable tendency to suffer from the other. The symptoms are classically psychosomatic and unprovable—panic, fatigue, coughing, light-headedness etc.—and the 'victims' are predominantly middle class women living in rich countries, especially Canada and America. If Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Electrosensitivity are real diseases, it's strange that they target such a specific group of people. So strange, in fact, that you might almost suspect that the tree-hugging hippy crap they believe about getting back to nature has turned into psychosis.

People who suffer from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity—or Californian Asthma, as I prefer to call it—are determined to have their malady recognised by health authorities. They are insistent that minute traces of anything they consider to be 'unnatural' are having a profound effect on their health. Unfortunately for them, science does not agree. There's no doubt that they believe that they are ill, but double-blind control trials suggest that the only illness they suffer from is, not to put too fine a point on it, of the mental variety.

And so I was interested to hear about this study which appears to give the MCS faction some hope.

Scented laundry products emit hazardous chemicals through dryer vents

The same University of Washington researcher who used chemical sleuthing to deduce what's in fragranced consumer products now has turned her attention to the scented air wafting from household laundry vents.

This is a study of the air that comes out of laundry machines when you use detergents. I'm not going to go through the findings in detail, suffice to say that the intrepid researcher held a jar to the outlet vent of a washing machine and found various chemicals at incredibly low levels (parts per billion+). She then uses the old "no safe level" canard to imply that they constitute a health hazard. If you need to know why this is junk you're probably reading the wrong blog. Like the infamous third-hand smoke study, it's not that the science is wrong necessarily, just that it is irrelevant unless you can show harm to health.

This study has been published in the obscure, but peer-reviewed, journal Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health and was authored by Dr. Anne Steinemann, who has published in peer-reviewed journals before and has a degree in Civil Engineering from the University of California. So it can't just be a load of old guff written by be one of these hyper-sensitive cranks with an axe to grind, can it?

Unless, of course, she's the same Anne Steinemann who joined this electrosensitivity internet group (how does that work?) a few weeks ago...

Dear All,

Thank you for a wonderful group. I am a new member, and have looked through the old posts to find answers, so please pardon me if you've already addressed these issues.

(1) I am being severely affected by WiFi signals coming from neighbors' homes. (I see at least 10 signals on my computer.) I have tried talking with them, to see if they would at least turn off their WiFi at night - no luck. What other mitigations are possible? (I realize that I am probably going to have to move - but how do I survive in the meantime?)

(2) I'd like a way to measure the EMFs around a house, before I move into it. I have a Tri-Field meter already, but it evidently doesn't pick up WiFi signals.

What would you recommend?

Please e-mail me directly at anne.steinemann@... with your responses.

Many thanks,

Anne Steinemann

Anne Steinemann has previously told people to clean their houses with vinegar and baking soda and has produced a study showing that there are chemicals in soaps and detergents. Well, yes. And so what? There are chemicals in vinegar, and everything else, too. The mere presence of a chemical is not evidence of harm. It is not even suggestive of harm. But it is to these people, because all chemicals are evil and the dose does not make the poison.

The most stupid and dangerous thing the Surgeon General ever did was come up with his "no safe level" of secondhand smoke line. He did it purely to scare people and probably didn't believe it himself, but when a top medical authority goes out of his way to induce hypochondria, you open the floodgates to every loon who wants to ban the things that displease them.

"The feeling is growing that you shouldn't be putting these things in environments where everyone is exposed," Miller said. Like second-hand tobacco smoke, she said, scented products expose people to hazards against their will. "Your right to wear fragrance ends at my nose."

Does this rhetoric sound at all familiar? It doesn't matter that these studies do little more than show how sophisticated their measuring equipment is. All that matters is that a list of peer-reviewed studies is built up to shove under the nose of some clueless lawmaker in the future. The fact that the studies themselves tell us nothing is unimportant. After all, when did a politician—or a journalist—ever read a study?


Anonymous said...

"Your right to wear fragrance ends at my nose."

You couldn't make it up. Anyhow, everyone in the USA smells permanently of soap. It's compulsory and it isn't likely to change. I was almost deported for wearing the same pair of jeans two days running. Come and live in the UK Anne. There are some households without even a power shower.

Anonymous said...

I am allergic to perfume, that is I cannot put it on my skin without coming up in charming and attractive red lumps. This does not mean that I am allergic to perfume on other people, in fact I am fairly sure it is not possible to be allergic to perfume on other people. Sometimes people use so much of the stuff that it feels as if it is making me itch, this is almost certainly a psychological rather than a physiological reaction. If, like me you cannot wear the stuff, then don't. By all means complain about other folks lack of discretion, but please don't try and make out that irritating smells are the same as dangerous exposures.

Ben said...

How is absurd is that: "I am being severely affected by WiFi signals coming from neighbors' homes. (I see at least 10 signals on my computer.)"

If she can see signals on her computer, she must have a Wi-Fi transmitter on hers, i.e. she is exposed to her own electromagnetic fields.
Same is true for her PC, not only does it produce low-frequency electro smog, it also emits high-frequency fields.
She doesn't seem to suffer from her own emissions though.

Frank Davis said...

Gro Harlem Brundtland is another "electrosensitive". She banned mobile phones in her office.

Angry Exile said...

Unless, of course, she's the same Anne Steinemann who joined this electrosensitivity internet group (how does that work?)

I reckon that unless the work of Charles Babbage has been resurrected and built on in a very big way this is weapons grade bullshit.

Magnetic said...

On psychologically-mediated (psychogenic) physical symptoms:
Environmental Somatization Syndrome

Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance (formerly Multiple Chemical Sensitivity)

dearieme said...

Can we at least agree that the cows who lather on scent and then go to a restaurant to spoil other people's meals ought to be strung up?

Anonymous said...

It's ironic that people who champion the charge of somatization do so out of an alleged lack of 'science' and diagnostic tests. They ignore the fact that somatization disorder comes with criteria that must be met, including the requirement that there must not be a plausible physical explanation for the illness. The fact is, science has provided that physical explanation with proven genetic predispositions, numerous diagnostic tests, and at least one biological marker that confirms the predominant theory of how it starts and perpetuates. Martin Pall, the researcher who developed the theory, has used animal models to study it, which begs the question: "how do animals acquire MCS if it's a psychosomatic illness?" Well, if you're a hopeless denialist like Stephen Barrett who reaches conclusions before science has the chance to fully study the subject at hand, you say something like this when confronted with proof that animals respond to acupuncture: "maybe they respond to the placebo effect."

When looked at objectively, the concept of MCS is not all that bizarre. It joins a list of diseases that were denied by close-minded "expert" know-it-alls like asthma, allergies, multiples sclerosis, and any number of illnesses whose manifestations were shown before their etiologies were understood. These experts fall into one of two camps: either they are willing participants in the campaign of denial, like Barrett, or they are ignorant hangers-on like the flocks of self-proclaimed "skeptics".

I'm not a woman, I'm not a tree hugger, and I'm not a techno-phobe. MCS is easy to ridicule when one's understanding of it is based on straw man descriptions and/or the extreme reports of those who do not understand their illness and those who exaggerate their experiences. This is not at all different from patient histories taken from the average person about any number of illnesses: many or most people don't understand illnesses that are well-described in medical literature, never mind an illness that is still poorly understood and features a tremendous variety of symptoms.

As far as the 'types' of people who get MCS goes, many do indeed wind up hopping on the environmental bandwagon, which is not surprising considering that chemicals are the cause of the disease. Unfortunately, people tend to respond to one extreme with the opposite extreme, so we have a bunch of people who fall for the global warming myth, or the chemtrail myth, or any number of other tales. It should go without saying that that is not data the refutes the disease. It's just reflective of human nature.

smokervoter said...

Californian Asthma, I love it. I've lived here my entire life and I must say you've got us pegged right on the money. I have developed Anne Steinemann-radar over the years and can sidestep and deftly avoid the type like a pro football running back returning a kick off. Time was that you could even smell them coming - it was the patchouli oil - but that hippy fad has gone away. Now you just look for the dangling earrings, semi-butch haircut and a certain intense look that's hard to describe but easy to sense firsthand.

They tend to cluster in the Apple-Googley Area and West Side (rich and hip) Los Angeles. The remainder of the state is still the California you might recall portrayed in the classic surf movie Endless Summer.