Archive for category ‘Workplace Exposure‘

Rehab Center said – bring a Wheelchair when you pick him up

An Account from the Editor of the CSN-Blog

Several years have passed. We still had local self-help groups and met monthly. We kept contact by phone, because barely none of our members had internet. Most of them became ill by chemicals at the workplace. Though it is ten years ago, we still remember certain people or episodes. Last week when a woman with Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and severe toxic injuries sent an article for the blog, in which she reported on the struggle with the German Federal Insurance Institution for Employees because of a scheduled Rehab, we returned to a case.

Marked by chemicals

We had a meeting of our local “Workgroup of Chemically Injured”. The guy was rather young but looked quite older. He entered the room escorted by his sister. She had to support him, because the young man lost his sense of balance. After the speeches we chatted. The Sister said her brother was already exhausted as he tried to listen and he is nearly unable to speak. Once he worked at a big car tire manufactory. Now he is a health wreck. In spite of his harrowing state of health, the social pension fund created stress and refused to pay. The Workers Compensation didn’t act any more cooperatively: they denied realizing a connection between the desperate state of health and the chemical exposure at work. Though he was on the ropes, the young man was not willing to accept the experience of injustice by these insurance companies in addition to his physical suffering.

Brain damage by solvents

His sister told that he has gone through brain surgery. They hoped to manage his vertigo and his brain symptoms with a demanding operation. There was no improvement – rather the opposite. Most of the day he stayed in his room and watched videos. Contact with his friends was nearly broken for two reasons. The young man was no longer capable of conversation and he was unable to drive his car to his friends, who lived in neighboring locations. Friends who still came to visit him in the beginning were completely shocked by the bad health of their peer and could hardly deal with the sight. This few visits were the result, and then nobody came again.

Injured by chemicals at workspace

But for all of that the family of the man endeavored to enhance his state. The sister said that his condition isn’t always the same, so she hopes that there will be some turn for the better. She asked what the family may do to achieve a bit of health stabilization. At that time, my first advice to her was to arrange the man’s room to be absolutely free from chemicals and to abandon plastic materials completely, because he had become ill from synthetics, solvents and rubber.

The sister listened to my detailed explanations, how a clean room for a chemically sensitive person should look like. After that she rated the room totally inappropriate, in which the former quite vital young man spent nearly all of his time. There he had a TV, a video recorder, many video tapes, carpeting, a normal foam mattress in the bed and vinyl wallpaper. A room like the ones of many millions other young folks.

Aid by the family

The family was serious about it. They wanted to see the young man healthier again. They dedicated all their efforts. Two rooms at ground level were arranged for him. They tiled the floor and finished the walls with safe natural paint. They obtained a good air purifier, a mattress from natural material and made everything compatible.

Scarcely two months later the sister called me by phone. As she started to speak, the depression in her voice had completely disappeared. It is unlikely to believe, but her brother feels better worlds apart. At Saturday he even was able to visit his friends in the neighbor town riding his car without any help. She said, the whole family is overjoyed, because they didn’t consider such a recovery possible any more. The young man only became dizzy, when he was exposed to certain chemicals. He learned to detect such situations and avoided exposure. He left instantly when he realized them. Step by step his former vitality returned. The sister called more often and proudly reported on his further progresses.

Rehab in face of the delicate state of health

Then there was another call. Completely upset, the sister told that her brother received a letter from the social pension fund. He’s scheduled for a rehab. They rang up to tell the official from the German Federal Insurance Institution for Employees about the state of the young man and that he needs a chemical free environment and organic food. There was no understanding: he was liable to cooperate or otherwise his entitlement under pension scheme will be lost. The result of a call to the specified rehab clinic was that nothing there met the requirements for the young man’s health. Nevertheless he had to go into the regimen, they wanted to estimate his working ability and stabilize him, as they said.

Bring a wheelchair

At the next call, the voice of the sister was nearly dead. She told that her brother really had been in those rehab. She picked him up yesterday. He was there for nearly four weeks. When she phoned in, she was not permitted to speak with her brother. This was not beneficial for the therapy, they said. The day before yesterday they called her in the morning. She was told she could pick up her brother and may please bring a wheelchair.

Anger and pain

The sister reported that she broke out in tears as she came for her brother. No trace was left of the previous improvements in his health. His state was worse than before all the measures which had been taken by the family with great efforts and financial costs.

She had to carry her brother into the car helped by a male-nurse. She asked the nurse what had been done with her brother in the rehab. He shook his shoulders and turned his view to the floor. At this moment she had boiled with rage and went into the building then and closely looked at it. Heavy chemical smell from carpeting engulfed her. It’s just newly installed, so it still smells, the nurse told her. She asked to be shown to the room. Carpeting, smell of disinfectants, particle board furniture etc.

The refectory, in which her brother was urged to take his meals, was more than 100 meters away. To reach it he has to pass a long hallway without windows for ventilation, floored with carpeting which badly smelled from chemicals and adhesives. He repeatedly begged to be allowed to have his meals in the room, which was not allowed. Other patients even had offered to bring him the meals to save the staff from extra work. The directive was not changed; the young man had to resort to the refectory for the meals, where he additionally was exposed to perfumes, after shave and other scents. As he became unable to make it through the long hallway afoot, he got a walking frame, shortly later they gave him a wheelchair.

The indoor pool of the rehab was near the brother’s room. The odor of chlorine flooded the whole area. In spite of his heavy reactions to chlorine he had to take part in the exercise therapy in the swimming pool for several times. He was exempted from participation when he nearly “drowned” in the pool, because of a reaction.

In a strained voice the sister said after her report: “They have not made my brother healthy, they have executed him and now I know why I never was allowed to have a word with him. Any health success he had before the rehab therapy is destroyed.”

Health decline by rehab

This is no isolated case even if it is in his consequences one of the most worst cases ever reported to me. There are no rehab facilities adapted to the needs of chemically sensitive patients in Germany.

If patients with Chemical Sensitivity scheduled for a rehab ask about the local environmental conditions and explain that they cannot stay in such premises because of their reactions to chemicals, they were blamed for a lack of cooperation.

Some chemically sensitive persons had to accept a substantial decline of their health, because they were scheduled to rehab clinics which offered neither organic food nor chemical free environmental conditions, and where the smell of scent agents and disinfectants flooded the whole building.

Many chemically sensitive retirement pensioner aspirant tried to hold out – or managed somehow to hold out, to avoid being alleged for having not “cooperated”. These chemically sensitive patients feared to forfeit their pension claim. An enhancement wasn’t ever reported in a single case. On the contrary: what the chemically injured persons had regained by many restrictions and a environmental controlled living space was lost.

Finally? Hopefully

But it seems the German Federal Insurance Institution for Employees sees reason to show some understanding. A single mother struggled until the Insurance understood. Finally, the rehab measure for which they put her under heavy pressure was withdrawn, accepting her MCS and due to the lack of a suitable clinical facility for chemically sensitive patients.

Author: Silvia K. Mueller, CSN – Chemical Sensitivity Network, April 6, 2010

Translation: Thank you very much to BrunO!

Proof-reading: Thank you very much to John!

Related articles:

Professor urges us to take people with chemical sensibility into account


Yesterday (Feb 2, 2010), in an independent student newspaper from the University of New Hampshire, a professor of chemical engineering appealed to the community to take “Canaries” into account regarding the use of chemicals and especially scents. He spoke of those persons who suffer from Chemical Sensitivity and who have to be seen – like those former canaries in mines – as indicators for toxic chemicals.

Some American and Canadian Universities have a “Scent Free Policy” which means that the use of perfumes and products containing scents is prohibited within these Universities. All visitors have to meet this policy. It allows students with allergy and chemical sensitivity to work and study.

Professor Ihab Farag, Chemical Engineering Department:

Many of us are familiar with canaries, the beautiful, colorful birds that tend to sing most of the time. Canaries also saved many human lives in coalmines. This is because canaries are much more sensitive to toxic gases than humans. Miners would take canaries with them in the coalmine. If the canary stopped singing and fell (or died), the miners knew to leave the coal mine quickly to safety.

There are individuals who have developed a very strong sensitivity to many common chemicals. These people can be very negatively affected and irritated by fumes, chemical cleaners, disinfectants, cigarette/cigar smoke, engine exhaust, solvents, etc. These people are often called “Human Canaries” of the modern world, because of the chemical sensitivity similarity to that of Canaries. Human Canaries of the 21st century tend to be very strongly irritated by everyday chemicals like perfumes, hair products, shampoos, shower gels, after shave lotions, antiperspirants, deodorants, hand sanitizers, chap sticks, finger nail polish, etc. Human canaries look the same as other people, and when you see one you probably will not recognize he or she is a human canary until an offensive toxic chemical triggers his or her sensitivity.

Please be considerate to human canaries and help them to enjoy life to the fullest. One way you can help the human canary and at the same time lower your exposure to undesirable chemicals, is to go fragrance-free: avoiding perfumes, and fragranced personal care products.


Author: Silvia K. Müller, CSN – Chemical Sensitivity Network, February 2, 2009


Chemical consideration to the Human Canaries, Ihab Farag, Professor, Chemical Engineering Department, Letter to the editor 02-02-10, The New Hampshire, Independent Student Newspaper at the University of New Hampshire since 1911, Februar 2, 2010

Long-term respiratory symptoms in World Trade Center responders

9/11 responders still sick


New York State (NYS) employees who responded to the World Trade Center (WTC) disaster on or after 11 September 2001 potentially experienced exposures that might have caused persistent respiratory effects. NYS responders represent a more moderately exposed population than typical first responders. 

To assess whether NYS employees who were WTC responders were more likely than controls to report lower respiratory symptoms (LRS) or a diagnosis of asthma 5 years post-9/11, persistence and severity of symptoms were also evaluated. 

Participants were initially mailed self-administered questionnaires (initial, Year 1, Year 2) and then completed a telephone interview in Year 3. Data were analysed using Poisson’s regression models. 

WTC exposure was associated with LRS, including cough symptoms suggestive of chronic bronchitis, 5 years post-9/11. When exposure was characterized using an exposure assessment method, the magnitude of effect was greater in those with exposure scores above the mean. WTC exposure was associated with persistence of LRS over the 3 year study period. Results also suggest that participants with the highest exposures were more likely to experience increased severity of their asthma condition and/or LRS. 

The findings suggest that even in a moderately exposed responder population, lower respiratory effects were a persistent problem 5 years post-9/11, indicating that some WTC responders require ongoing monitoring.  

Literature: Mauer MP, Cummings KR, Hoen R., Long-term respiratory symptoms in World Trade Center responders, Bureau of Occupational Health, Center for Environmental Health, New York State Department of Health, Occup Med (Lond). 2009 Dec 24.

Male reproductive organs are at risk from environmental hazards

We need solutions to protect human health


Male reproductive disorders that are of interest from an environmental point of view include sexual dysfunction, infertility, cryptorchidism, hypospadias and testicular cancer.

Several reports suggest declining sperm counts and increase of these reproductive disorders in some areas during some time periods past 50 years. Except for testicular cancer this evidence is circumstantial and needs cautious interpretation. However, the male germ line is one of the most sensitive tissues to the damaging effects of ionizing radiation, radiant heat and a number of known toxicants.

So far occupational hazards are the best documented risk factors for impaired male reproductive function and include physical exposures (radiant heat, ionizing radiation, high frequency electromagnetic radiation), chemical exposures (some solvents as carbon disulfide and ethylene glycol ethers, some pesticides as dibromochloropropane, ethylendibromide and DDT/DDE, some heavy metals as inorganic lead and mercury) and work processes such as metal welding. Improved working conditions in affluent countries have dramatically decreased known hazardous workplace exposures, but millions of workers in less affluent countries are at risk from reproductive toxicants. New data show that environmental low-level exposure to biopersistent pollutants in the diet may pose a risk to people in all parts of the world.

For other noxicants the evidence is only suggestive and further evaluation is needed before conclusions can be drawn. Whether compounds as phthalates, bisphenol A and boron that are present in a large number of industrial and consumer products entails a risk remains to be established. The same applies to psychosocial stressors and use of mobile phones.

Finally, there are data indicating a particular vulnerability of the fetal testis to toxicants – for instance maternal tobacco smoking. Time has come where male reproductive toxicity should be addressed form entirely new angles including exposures very early in life.

Bonde JP., Male reproductive organs are at risk from environmental hazards, Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Bispebjerg University Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark, Asian J Androl. 2009 Dec 7.

Pesticides exposure linked to suicidal thoughts

Pesticides exposure linked to suicidal thoughts

A new study in China has found that people with higher levels of pesticide exposure are more likely to have suicidal thoughts. The study was carried out by Dr Robert Stewart from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London together with scientists from Tongde Hospital Zhejiang Province. 

The agricultural pesticides commonly used in China are organophosphates which are in wide use in many lower income countries but have been banned in many Western nations. It is well known that they are very dangerous if ingested as an overdose but there is also biological evidence that chronic low-grade exposure to these chemicals, which are very easily absorbed into the body through the skin and lungs, may have adverse effects on mental health. This study is the first epidemiological evidence to suggest possible effects on suicidal thoughts. 

The study was carried out in central/coastal China, a relatively wealthy area with a rapidly developing economy. In a very large survey of mental health in rural community residents, participants were also asked about how they stored pesticides. The study found that people who stored pesticides at home, i.e. those with more exposure, were more likely to report recent suicidal thoughts. Supporting this, the survey also found suicidal thoughts to be associated with how easily accessible these pesticides were in the home and that the geographic areas with highest home storage of pesticides also had highest levels of suicidal thoughts in their populations. 

Given the high level of pesticide exposure and the high suicide risk in rural China, clarification of the causal mechanisms underlying this association and the development of appropriate interventions should be priorities for public health and health policy. 

Dr Robert Stewart comments: ‘Organophosphate pesticides are widely used around the world although are banned in many countries because of their risk to health. They are particularly lethal chemicals when taken in overdose and are a cause of many suicides worldwide. Our research findings that suggest that higher exposure to these chemicals might actually increase the risk of suicidal thoughts provides further support for calls for tighter international restrictions on agricultural pesticide availability and use.’

Dr Jianmin Zhang, Associate Chief Psychiatrist, Tongde Hospital of Zhejiang Province, and Vice Director, Zhejiang Office of Mental Health, China added: “The findings of this study suggested potential causal links and might partially account for the much higher incidence of suicide in rural than urban areas of China. However, further studies particularly with more precisely defined and assessed exposure are critically needed, as awareness of safer access to pesticides is important both to policy-makers and pesticide users.”


Reference: King’s College London, Pesticides exposure linked to suicidal thoughts, October 22, 2009  


Pesticide exposure and suicidal ideation in rural communities in Zhejiang province, China by Jianmin Zhang, Robert Stewart, Michael Phillips, Qichang Shi & Martin Prince was published in the October issue of the WHO Bulletin. The full article can be accessed on 

The analysis involved data from a survey of a representative sample of 9,811 rural residents in Zhejiang province who had been asked about the storage of pesticides at home and about whether or not they had considered suicide within the two years before the interview. The Chinese version of the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) was administered to screen for mental disorder.