Archives for March 2012

Moulds and Mattresses

This is a photo of the floor in the bedroom where I was sleeping.

The damp patch on my bedroom's concrete floor

Right outside this room, on the outside of the house is a tap, which I thought must have a leaky pipe.  So I called in the experts. The guy who owns the house had a look and said it does not appear to have a leak. So, then a builder guy came to the house, had a look and said that before the house was built and the concreters laid the slab, they mustn’t have mixed the sand and concrete correctly; therefore, the slab is not sealed around the edges and has a honey-comb like structure that absorbs the water that sits around the house after heavy rains. Or, another possibility: they might of used beach sand and that is why, perhaps, there is the white powder that sits on the top. No matter how many times I clean it away, it always magically appears again like dust left by fairies in the night.

The white dust (salt?) left behind after the dampness dries out - before getting vacuumed

It is in the main bedroom of the house I’m renting, so at the time of moving in, I thought it was a good choice of accommodations. The house had been painted with Wattyl ID paints that I know I’m okay with—for me, the VOC’s dissipate and what’s left behind does not give me headaches or affect my breathing; the blinds are made from aluminium; the floor, the carpet ripped out, is now bare concrete; the mattress, certified organic cotton; my furniture, all outgassed, so, as I thought at the time: what in an elf’s pickle could possibly go wrong?

Apart from the nervous tension within me that (nagging like a masked monkey reminding me I’d moved away to less polluted pastures because living in the city with chemical sensitivities had become unbearable) I felt, I was excited to be back. The move had disrupted my life, to an extreme level, and I had to change everything: my address, everything I owned, almost who I was. Lucky for me, my condition improved and I was able to join in with the human race again. And now I was back. I could breathe; my nose didn’t ache with pain at common everyday odours. A rose was a rose, and the inhalation of its scent was nothing but divine. Ha! I was cured, God damn it!?

Hell, I could even go into some shops (however, not past the cleaning isle of the supermarket) without wearing my freaking mask. So what in snog’s noggin went wrong? The. Damp. Patch. On. The. Floor. (It had to be.)

And moulds. That’s what. I’ve heard it said, they are the enemy of the chemically sensitive. And let me say, “I F*cking detest them (the moulds that is).”. It’s hard to believe they can cause so much pain and discomfort until they actually cause so much pain and discomfort.

One year after moving back into suburbia, I should have known what was causing the problems, but for some reason mould symptoms—for me—are ubiquitous in nature. Let me explain: I still try to avoid chemicals, I truly do, but it isn’t always possible when living in suburbia, and when I breathe in solvent based fragrance chemicals, people are wearing; wood smoke, from the neighbour’s chimneys; and truck/vehicle diesel fumes, which leak into the cabin when I drive, I suffer pain breathing through my nose (this spreads throughout my face, head, and sinus area), and I get sore dry eyes, tightness in my chest, and headaches. These symptoms can last anywhere from one hour up to twenty-four hours after the initial exposure. If I stay home, always wear my mask when I go out, and only socialise with the fragrance free, I can avoid most of these symptoms (apart form getting gassed by the chemicals emitted in other people’s wood smoke–while in my own home), but alas, I need to live my life by attending university, taking my daughter to school, visiting the shops, driving the car to get there, and most of the time, I end up with the stupid, unjust, karmic pay back of these symptoms.

So when these began happening twenty-four hours on a daily basis, I put it down to city living, visited my GP, was given pain-killers, which made it worse, and sought to cut back on chemical exposures. Winter came and my breathing became worse; I had the most awful sinus headaches and my nose was throbbing, breathing any odours/vapours (cooking odours, or chemical vapours hurt like I’d inhaled something akin to rose thorns).  The only clue: each time it rained for days outside, my symptoms worsened for days inside.

You know, it rained bathtubs here in Victoria last year. This cloudy patch on the floor crept to this dimension (see above photo), and I clicked. I took a piece of paper towel and wiped at the window, and sure enough, it came away with black speckles: mould!

A mould sample

I moved out of the offending room, down to the other end of the house, and into the gym. Resourceful squirrel that I am, I placed an oil heater (that was stored out in the garage) into the room, and I gave the windows and the whole room a thorough clean (while wearing a mask) using hot soapy water, then squirted Herbon cleanser (a fragrance free product similar to Spray and Wipe), finally finishing with a wipe of white vinegar (even the odour of this was causing pain in my nose whilst I breathed it in). I let it sit until dry. After a couple of days I repeated the same process, except this time I put a couple of coats of Hydrogen Peroxide (Fauldings brand) over every surface where the mould had been. (The peroxide would be the closest chemical I could get to a bleaching agent, and it seemed to do the trick.)

This was six months ago; I still haven’t recovered. Either the mould exposure has knocked my immune system about, or more likely, I’m still being exposed to it. Since moving into the other room, I’ve noticed my mattress has a musty-cottony odour. On warm days It’s quite strong and I still wake up with nose-splitting headaches. So today I rang Organature, this’s where I bought my organic cotton mattress, around five years ago. Peter, the owner, suggested that the mattress has absorbed the dampness, along with the mould from the room. This makes perfect sense to me. The good customer that I am, he offered me a discount on a new one. So, while I wait for my new mattress to arrive, my hopes are running wild (like pixies in a field of daisies) with the idea that this new mattress is the missing link to recovering back to where I was when I moved back into to this dank, dark suburban gas chamber…

(Note: from the moment I bought my first organic cotton mattress, my health began to improve. (I had also moved out to live near the ocean, thrown out all my own perfume—that I’d used previous to developing sensitivities to chemicals—and perfume contaminated clothing (basically everything I owned), began eating all organic produce, and only socialised amongst the fragrance-free of society. It was a charmed life, I tell you.) With the momentum of my recovery set forward in frog leaps and dog bounds, I also acquired a couple of Austin Air Purifiers (filters), but the change in mattress started it all off. It has been said that the most important chemical free zone for a person sensitive to chemicals is their home. The state of my health is testament to that!)

Organature sell Australia's only organic cotton mattresses (Like the one I own)


Here’s to good health and re-creating it!

Now, what to do about that bloody abomination of a concrete floor before the winter rains come again?

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

Safe Cosmetics Australia

If, like me, you’re the type of person who finds that the scent of perfume hints at toxicity in the air, then you’ll be ecstatic to find Australia now has its own national accreditation for toxic-free products, which means safer products for us.

(Note that I said ‘safer’ because for some chemically sensitive people, there are not many products that are actually safe—there are just ‘safer’ products. It’s a shame that we are made sick by products that are not even being worn by us; and that they’re in the air—emitting out toxic VOCs—when other people choose to wear them. It’s kind of a breach of human rights that Australian people are made ill by chemicals that are not even regulated. Isn’t it? We just want them to wear safer products so that we do not suffer reactions when breathing around them, or have a reaction later on when second-hand *fragrance has stuck to our hair, skin, and clothing.)

Safe Cosmetics Australia (SCA) say they are concerned about public health, safety and environmental issues resulting from the use of toxic chemicals used in the formulation of Australian cosmetics; and that their aim is to fill in where industry and government leave off. By that I hope they mean they are going to embarrass the Australian government into regulating hazardous personal care products chemicals.

On their website they point out that:

“The Australian government does Not review the safety of products before they are sold & companies are allowed to use hazardous chemicals to formulate everyday personal care products – this is a major concern for public health, safety & environmental issues.” 

Really? The Australian government would do that? To unsuspecting people? Is that why I suffer ‘The Linx Effect’ (read: trouble breathing) when I breathe in air-borne VOCs from another person’s Linx deodorant? Not just because I’m chemically sensitive but because the Australian government do not regulate hazardous chemicals, and because manufacturers can use whatever chemicals they deem necessary so they can make a nice smelling (*fragrance) product that, in turn, sells and makes a profit? While hurting people?

Good on SCA, for leading the way; this is a great start for Oz. Let’s hope they look into that obnoxiously toxic Linx spray!

SCA, the  only National Accreditation for toxic-free personal care & household products, are dedicated to providing the public with information enabling them to choose products that are made without harmful chemical ingredients. Now, that’s just great, ain’t it? Manufacturers are able to apply for accreditation for personal care & household products including; skin care, body care, baby care, beauty care, make-up, animal care & household cleaning products. Consumers will be able to identify safer products by the ‘Certified Toxic-Free by SCA’ Trademarked logo.

Because people don’t have a clue. I mean, how could they? Unless they are made ill, or know people who are made ill, how would they know that a product contains toxic ingredients? By the ingredients label? Manufacture’s do not have to disclose their ingredients. Perhaps people can tell it’s toxic by the smell? I don’t think so, because that’s how most people judge a product, by the smell; and if it smells nice then it must be okay. Now, people who want to choose safer products will have the ‘Certified Toxic-Free by SCA’ logo on the label to guide them.

An extract from a recent article, ‘Toxic Taint Drives Cosmetic Change‘, in the  Sydney Morning Herald:

“It is alarming that the majority of these chemicals have not been assessed for public health and safety especially when extensive research in Australia and abroad has found hundreds of hazardous chemicals are entering our bodies on a daily basis and passing into the environment with toxic consequences,” says Amina Leslie, director of Safe Cosmetics Australia. “Toxic chemicals are by far the cheaper alternative to natural ingredients and it appears that profit comes before health on too many occasions, considering the Australian cosmetic and toiletries industry has domestic sales of approximately $5 billion per annum. The Australian government needs to take appropriate action to protect the general public.”

To back this claim up, SCA are contacting each & every company that manufactures & sells personal care and household products in Australia, and are urging them to exclude or restrict hazardous chemicals and to apply for certification by SCA – accredited companies will be published online, see SCA’s Toxic-Free List. A list, the top offenders, of Prohibited & Restricted Chemicals has been compiled by SCA; this list of chemicals, which raises concerns for the health and safety of Australians, will be nominated for review by NICNAS.

The day after the article appeared in the SMH, SCA updated their Facebook status:

 “[SCA] is amazed at how many companies are hiding behind closed doors when asked to supply a list of products & their full ingredients… breeds a real concern for SCA’s Toxic-Free List”

By now some of these toxin-producing, symptom-inducing criminals hiding under the mask of cosmetics/personal care product manufactures would be stashing their ingredients list back in their filing cabinets where no-one has a right to see them: that is the law, they don’t have to disclose this information. While the Australian government can choose to put their heads back under their blanket of ignorance so the Australian public can’t see the flames of shame ride up their cheeks!

Meanwhile, in Europe people have something more than a National Accreditation; they have the government legislation REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals). The EU are definately on their way to having safer products because the REACH regulation places greater responsibility on industry and manufacturers requiring them to collect safety information on ingredients used in their products, and make that information available to the consumers by registering the information into a central database run by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki. The fact that REACH requires industry to manufacture, import and use chemicals safely means that there will be ‘safer’ products for the European population.

A large number of substances have been manufactured and placed on the market in Australia for many years (just like in Europe), sometimes in very high amounts, without sufficient information on the hazards that they pose to human health and the environment. The difference: here, chemical products are left on the market until proven harmful: a reversal of the burden of proof.

You can subscribe to Safe Cosmetics Australia’s newsletter here.

And you can connect with their Facebook page here.

Or, if you have any questions about toxic chemicals, would like to apply for certification, or would like SCA to review a particular product or ingredient, you can email them here:

Or, you can search in Environmental Working Group‘s (EWG) Skin Deep database of over 69,000 products here.

Finally, click here to read the eight biggest myths about yours/or other people’s cosmetics.


Here’s to enabling people to choose wiser.

*The perfume/and fragrance industry is a self-regulated one, therefore the only thing a consumer can identify in a bottle of perfume is, yep, you guessed it, fragrance… The chemical ingredients in fragrance recipes are protected under the trade secrets act and described on the label only as ‘fragrance’.
And, the term ‘fragrance’ is a generic word concocted to describe the mix of any of up to 5000 chemicals within these recipes. Because they do not disclose to the consumer the product ingredients, it is difficult to identify which chemical component of the fragrance is causing symptoms.

Related articles

  • Would you believe these eight myths about common everyday products?

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

Choose Friendships Over Fragrances

Often, asking someone to forgo using his or her fragrance products (such as perfume, aftershave, washing powder, or hairspray) can be awkward. You just don’t know how that person will react. I’ve had all sorts of responses, from kind acceptance of my request, to utter outrage—stemming from their perception of ‘my’ breaching of ‘their’ human rights. (Like breathing air unhindered is not a basic human right? And it—the outrage—just goes to prove that breathing is something that people take for granted… that is until they have problems doing it!) Asking a friend to skip using fragrance (so you can access the friendship, so to speak) and asking a professional such as a doctor, dentist or lawyer (so that you can access a service, and/or building) to go without fragrance are completely different challenges. One is required (by law) to help you, but the other one (the friend) has to have your best interests at heart to be able to help you. It’s easier to find a new dentist than it is to find a new friend. I’ve found that it helps to set the bar high, I don’t have a lot of friends but the ones I do have would never wear fragrance around me. It’s about education really!

Just because, the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has included reference to MCS in their revised Guideline, Access to Buildings and Services (Guidelines and information (HEREOC 2007) does not mean that knowledge about MCS, chemical sensitivity, and Environmental Illness is common among the general public—yet.

This, taken from HEROC’s website, states:

“The Use of Chemicals and Materials section of the Guidelines state: A growing number of people report being affected by sensitivity to chemicals used in the building, maintenance and operation of premises. This can mean that premises are effectively inaccessible to people with chemical sensitivity. People who own, lease, operate and manage premises should consider the following issues to eliminate chemical sensitivity reactions in users:

  • the selection of building, cleaning and maintenance chemicals and materials;
  • the provision of adequate ventilation and ensuring all fresh air intakes are clear of possible sources of pollution such as exhaust fumes from garages;
  • minimising use of air fresheners and pesticides;
  • the provision of early notification of events such as painting, pesticides applications or carpet shampooing by way of signs, memos or email.”

Now, why can’t we get the general public to do this? Am I kidding? No, I’m not. It’s all about creating a balance. And education (did I say that already?). And it’s about repeating yourself. And repeating yourself. And… you get the idea. People are bombarded with adds to scent things: their washing; their hair; their armpits; their houses; their cars; their dogs even. If manufacturers used only non-toxic ingredients (whether they be natural or not) that have been proven safe for asthmatics, the chemically sensitive, the allergic, and the immune compromised then life would be easier for all us. But it’s not, and unless the people who can’t breathe comfortably around these products, pack up and move to Halifax (a city where council/government have passed regulations to make the place fragrance free so that people affected by fragrance chemicals can access the city without getting sick) then we had better get our education hats on.

Asking a medical professional (especially now that we have the Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: A Guide for Victorian hospitals) or other type of professional is one thing. Often this goes down well, and in the event of not making someone sick, they are happy to comply; however, asking a friend or extended family member is another box of tricks entirely. I’ve perfected the art of convincing people in the professional domain, but when it comes to family and friends, I still struggle, even after nine years. Because of the lack of education in this area, I’ve had to be the educator, and I can tell you, it is frustrating at times and sometimes easier—especially when I’ve had a severe exposure and everything is making me ill—to just recover in isolation. Friends and family can be bias against you, or use excuses like, “Well, she was fine around me the other day [Read: she didn’t say anything about my shampoo/hairspray/deodorant.].” Or, “She’s just having a bad day,” or even (from the people who can’t conceptualise the idea of someone being made ill by chemicals), “She doesn’t like the way I smell.”.

My tips for helping others to help you?

Give them a list of all the products that you are okay with. Products that are safe for you to breathe around; products that don’t make you ill; products you know they use (just find a different brand without the nasty ingrediants). Or my personal favourite? Buy them two or three of each of these products and give them to them at Christmas (and on birthdays). Every. Single. Year. For some reason, this really works…

In this video, from the Invisible Disabilities website Cherri and Karen have a great attitude and some helpful tips to go along with it. Check it out!

And this from the Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign (CIAC) website:

Research done in 2004, 2005 and 2009 by Stanley M.Caress and Anne C. Steinemann “… found that nearly 38% of Americans report adverse effects when exposed to some kind of fragranced product.” With approximately 310 million people in America in 2010, that is almost 117 million Americans who report adverse effects to normal, everyday products.

As we can imagine, people living with Environmental Illness (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Chemical Injury, Toxic Encephalopathy) often experience limited access into public places, issues at work and inability to attend functions with friends and family. Regrettably, these barriers can lead to loneliness, isolation and feeling abandoned when loved ones choose not forgo the fragrances that cause these problems.

Therefore, if our loved one is telling us they are getting debilitating migraines, dizziness or fatigue from our laundry detergent, maybe we should consider simply switching it out so that they may remain a part of our lives.

For more information on the Choose Friendships Over Fragrances project, visit the Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign (CIAC) and look under “Campaigns.”

Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign (CIAC):

CIAC is a Campaign of the Invisible Disabilities Association – A 501(c)3 non-profit organization that encourages, educates and connects people and organizations touched by illness, pain and injury around the globe.

Invisible Disabilities Association:

Resource: Caress and Steinemann.

They further state:

The people in this video are not employees of IDA. We are simply sharing their story in order to help others living with Environmental Illness (Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, Chemical Injury, Toxic Encephalopathy). The opinions expressed within are not necessarily those of IDA. IDA is not a legal or medical authority nor are we scientists. Please seek the advice of a physician.

You can visit Karen’s website here

Information on the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Advisory Notes Access to buildings can be found here.

And a suggestive list of fragrance free and unscented products available in the US can be found here

And an Australian list, from AESSRA can be found here

And here is one from The Labyrinth ~ and finding my way out.

And here are some fragrance free products that are available in Germany

Update December 2012: You can read another post about friendship and fragrance, here

Here is an extract from it:

Do you know someone who says fragrances bother or disable them? Chances are pretty good that you do.

Fragrances used to be made from pure plant extracts. Not so anymore, in fact they have become increasingly toxic over the last decades. And they are virtually everywhere now, even outside emitted from dryer vents everywhere.

When your friend, family member or colleague informs you that something you use has an adverse effect on them, how do you respond?

Do you choose the friendship?

Or the product?

Are you willing to stop using your perfume or cologne and other scented products to be “safe” near your friend? Are you willing to stop using fabric softeners, dryer sheets and fragranced laundry products? What about your favorite moisturizer or lipstick if they are causing the adverse symptoms? Are you willing to shop around for new ones that don’t have toxic fragrance chemicals and other harmful ingredients? How willing are you to do these things for your friend, family member or colleague?

When you choose the friendship, you also choose health; your health, your friend’s health, and eco-system health! And when you do, we are able to enjoy your company, your self, your gifts and your services, your experiences, your sorrows and your joys. We can enjoy being WITH YOU!

When you choose the products, we can’t!

Why not?

(Hint: it’s usually not because we don’t like you anymore)

That is from Linda Sepp’s Life with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: The importance of safe housing blog. You can read more here

Do you have any tips on getting friends and family to NOT use products that make you ill? Have you ever been asked to not wear a product that’s been making someone else ill?

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

Information, products and views presented by guest bloggers @The Labyrinth are not necessarily the same as those held by this blog's author, Michellina van Loder. Reviews are my own personal opinions (unless stated otherwise); and satire is used throughout personal posts. Any health topics discussed are not to be taken as medical advice. Seek out medical attention if needed and do your own research; however, you're welcome to use mine as a start.
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