How to ask for assistance from your local council

The air we breathe, quite often, contains pollutants, we’re all aware of that; however, for some of us, we’re reminded of this more than the average person could ever possibly imagine. The prevalence of asthma, sensitivities to chemicals, and illnesses related to industrial and urban pollution could serve as a wake-up call to the world, but up until the last ten years or so, people like me, with my types of symptoms (that for different people–depending on what part of the world they live in—have led to diagnoses such as chronic allergies, Environmental Illness (EI), Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), and chemical sensitivities (CS)), have been a part of our society that has been shoved out of the forest. But slowly that is all changing… I can see a shift in people’s thinking, just in the blogs I read and subscribe to. And I can see a shift in consciousness’s  of the people I meet: the mask I wear over my face, and the explanation I give for wearing it, never fails to bring up environmental issues. (Another good thing about wearing the damn thing, I suppose.) I realise that I’m not alone. My problems are minuscule compared to those of the planet. Luckily, we are all in this together!

It is my belief that the best thing we can do for ourselves is to be pro-active in our approach to dealing with our problems; and to realise that it’s okay to ask others to help us. For me, this has meant contacting my local council and asking for their assistance. I’ve done this before, and now, I’m getting quite good at self-advocating. With doctors, dentists, schools, teachers, even vets. This used to be an act fraught with anxiety; each phone call, or meeting, I’d spend days making lists, planning what I would say, running over each possible outcome, working out what my next step would be. Now, I just pick up the phone, and then afterwards, follow up with an email. (I’ve learnt the hard way that all promised outcomes need to be in writing.)

This is part of the letter that I emailed to my local council this month (you see, when they mow the grass and spray whatever it is that they spray, they do it en-masse, and the last few months its been affecting me hugely):

Please find attached a letter from my specialist stating my condition and the chemicals (for which I have been tested for), that affect me. The symptoms that I experience are managed, primarily by avoidance; to do this I need Brimbank City Council and Melton Shire Council’s assistance: the area over the back fence boundary belongs to Melton Council and over the front belongs to Brimbank.

Today, I have experienced health problems in regards to lawnmower fumes, and possibly herbicides (I’m not sure if there were herbicides but do need to be careful) arriving on the wind, coming through my open front door and windows; Roundup has been problematic for me in the past, so if I can take steps to avoid breathing this in as well, I will.

It is not the smell, but the chemicals contained in these product’s/fuel’s vapours that affect my eyes, sinuses and breathing—and continue to for some time afterwards. Sometimes for days.

Can I please ask if I can have a 24 hour notice of mowing and pesticide/herbicide spraying so that I can take the action of keeping my doors and windows closed, and as well, not hang washing out on those days?

Also, if you are able to forward this to the person in charge of burn notifications that would be most helpful too. I suffer greatly on those days, and have even taken to sealing around windows with painter’s masking tape, so that I can keep the smoke out; however, it is often too late to prevent symptoms from occurring. If I could have forewarning, then I can take this action, the day before.

The best way to contact me is by text or email. My address is …

Thanking you in advance for any assistance you can offer,

Michellina Van Loder

I am confident, I will receive the help I need. The letter, most likely, will be passed on to the Parks Department: the people who work there, deal with the environment, and are, usually, all to aware of situations where people, animals and their habitats are affected by the external environments around them. Besides, I’m in the third generation of people who have had to deal/live/survive with these types of problems. People are becoming more aware; therefore, making it easier to get the help/accommodations that people sensitive to chemicals need!
:)
Below is a list of things you (or someone you know) can do to enlist the help of others:
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  • Be pro-active (I know that’s a vague statement but just saying it inspires me to facilitate the help that I need. The idea that I can do something, and then following through with actions (anything) gives me a sense of empowerment.)
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  • Realise you are not the first person to have to deal with trying to control the air you breathe! That grain of truth makes it all feel a little more ‘normal’; therefore, it feels more ‘doable’ too!
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  • Take notes on what happened, and when, your symptoms and anything else that coincides with the problem, because without that, it’s difficult to follow through with a back plan/further action (see final point for the back up plan).
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  • As often as you can, get the promised outcome in writing, unfortunately, we live in a world where people (some, not all, thankfully) can say one thing and do another.
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  • Always be polite, any type of aggression, or sadly, over emotional reactions like crying, even when something has made you ill, is not going to help. It could even work against you. (For me, practising good manners, and being really, really polite, purely for the purpose of controlling another human being’s actions is a challenge in itself. When it feels as if my head might explode from sinus pressure and breathing itself is a painful activity, I go into survival mode. Hence my hibernation of late.)
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  • Don’t make calls when you’re unwell, unless you feel able to handle the situation well, it’s best to write down the specifics and call later on, when you feel better!
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  • This one is most important: get a letter from your doctor/or specialist. Don’t get one from your natural therapist, we don’t live in that type of world (not in Australia anyway—not yet!). A doctor’s letter explaining your condition, what affects you, and how it affects you, can go a long way in gaining you the understanding that you need. I’ve quoted a part of mine below.
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  • This one, is the most important, remember: You are not alone, by changing this ‘one thing’, by helping to shape this ‘one person’s’ idea about the impact of their chemical use and it’s impact on others, essentially, you are helping other people like yourself, and future generations. (If I were to get all ‘fluffy’ on you, and say, “We are like this for a reason, there is something bigger to this than our own pain and suffering.” Perhaps, I’d be right, or maybe I’d just be getting all fluffy from all the inspirational blogs I’ve been reading of late! (2012, change in shift of energy. All that?!)
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  • And, be prepared to take responsibility for your own health, and make the necessary changes to your living arrangements. Whether this be buying an air purifier, sealing your windows and doors with painters masking tape (a type of tape that can be used to seal around windows and doors, keeping irritants/allergens out, without peeling the paint off, when removed), or moving to another location, you can do it. (Yes, we have been victimised by the use of chemicals that have made us ill, but by taking action/asking for someone to help us, we automatically take the first step from the position of victim to that of a survivor, and that’s the essence of being proactive when it comes to our health.)
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  • Contacting your local council, or Human Rights Organisation (in Australia, it’s HREOC), both are important options to keep in mind also (Hence keeping a list of ‘what’ and ‘when’).

My letter is from my treating Immunologist, Dr Colin Little, in Melbourne Australia (he’s an awesomely knowledgeable doctor when it comes to allergies, particularly chemical ones):

“Michellina Van Loder has been a patient of mine [x amount of years]. She presented with dryness of the eyes, nasal pain, headache, musculoskeletal pain and nausea. Extensive testing has shown the basis for these symptoms is adverse reactions to low level chemical exposures, levels encountered in everyday life. Among the chemicals she is particularly sensitive are solvents, hydrocarbons in vehicle exhaust, perfume, and nitrogen dioxide, which is produced by high temperature combustion, for example from motor vehicles, gas heaters and open fires.

The management of her sensitivity to chemicals is primarily by avoidance. Miss Van Loder has made major changes to her living situation to keep to a minimum her exposure to chemicals.”

There is more, but that’s the gist of it. And this letter, (and a few others that are ‘situation specific’) is used to help me to get others to help me. I’m still not failed to be amazed at how a letter from a doctor can help in  situations where decisions by company/government organisations are based on bureaucracy!

Someone else who suffers in a similar way to the same chemicals, from her local council is Lucinda Curran. She is trying a different approach; I admire her strength and tenacity. Please visit this page and sign her petition (at the time of this posting), she needs another 241 signatures)). Here is an extract:

It is widely known that herbicides have been linked to birth defects and other health problems, as well as posing problems environmentally.

These links may not be scientifically proven facts at this stage, but these herbicides have not been proven to be safe. DDT, asbestos and cigarettes were all thought to be safe – and we now know that they were not.

Taking a precautionary approach will provide peace of mind, and show the community that Yarra City Council CARES about the children, adults, pets, wildlife and plants; and wants to take steps to make the area a place that is safe for us, our children and animals, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

By making this change, Yarra City Council can:
1. promote its green ways and sustainable methodology – leading the way for other councils and organisations;
2. know that it is using something that is known to be safe; and
3. demonstrate its forward-thinking by recognising that an investment into the appropriate equipment to steam the unwanted vegetation is by far a more cost-efficient approach in the long term.

Although this is created for Yarra City Council, it would be fantastic if all other councils were approached in this way.

Linda is also the distributer for the I Can Breathe face masks, here in Australia. Her website is Truly Inspired, and you can visit it here.

Update: since writing this post, I’ve received a reply and an offer of assistance. More about that coming soon…

Oh, and, as I’ve been a bit of an ‘arm chair gardener’ of late, I was heartened to see on ABC’s Gardening Australia, a man who had a huge expanse of lawn and makes use of a classic motorless push mower to cut it: this is his way of keeping fit! Amazing.

If you’d like to read more about which lawnmowers will cut your grass, yet have less of an environmental impact, you can find out more here

Or, if you would like to check out the world’s first fully automatic lawn mower, Automower® Solar Hybrid, that is partly powered by the sun, click here. Brilliant for your lawn, great for your conscience, better for the planet. But with a price tag of just under $3000 (US), it’s not an option for most of us, but certainly a step in the right direction for the planet!

If I had my way, we’d all use domestic animals, like guinea pigs, rabbits, and ducks, or sheep to keep the grass down. (Mmm, grass-fed chops anyone?) :) But seriously, the Dorper sheep, apparently, is the perfect animal for this very thing! I’ll put that in my next letter to council, should I?

(Image source: http://www.freeimages.co.uk)

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.

About Michellina van Loder

Comments

  1. This article brought tears to my eyes. I am not alone!!!!

    • Michellina van Loder says:

      No, you are definitely not alone!
      PS: I have a follow up piece about what happened next…

  2. I’ve been excited to see awareness blossoming as well! We’re making a difference, how cool is that?

  3. Miche – Another great post as usual. You write wonderfully and I love the way it flows. I have had similar situations. When my husband was building the home I currently live in the building requirements were for fluorescent lights in all bathrooms and kitchens. I knew they were not good for me so I had my doctor write a letter. I presented the letter to the supervisor of the building department and got a waiver.

    I feel that we all need to ask for what we need. We have to take charge of our health and what does/does not make us well. I have had loan officers come outside while I sit in the car to have papers signed and notarized. My motto is to always ask and plead my case; the worst thing that can happen is I get a no. In that case I find another way around the problem.

    • Michellina Van Loder says:

      Thank you :)

      Oh, and don’t you just hate going into a bank? My daughter goes in for me nowadays, but in the past I’d line up (always at the same branch where the bank tellers new me) but the other customers would look at me so weird. I know what they were thinking…

      Isn’t amazing the how we find ways around things? Lateral thinking…

  4. Hi Miche – great article and I know how you feel. I’ve been in situations similar to this too, workplace, study or wherever and unbeknown to me the night before or on the day at work, the carpet is being cleaned or new furniture is being assembled and then cleaned or the building is being painted.

    Because I have not been forewarned and unable to express my difficulty with it or take precautions – I get really, really sick really quickly and of course it looks as though I’m a whinging idiot and what the hell is my problem. Everyone else is okay…blah…I feel awkward, embarrassed but mostly angry that other people don’t respect that others might have chemical sensitivities, like the girl who paints her nails across the aisle on the long haul bus trip. Or the other girl who sprays underarm deodarant at her desk right next to you with no warning!

    What if I was chronic asthmatic? It doesn’t have to be about chemical sensitivities. I get very annoyed with people who don’t stop to consider their actions, whether it’s the neighbour spraying roundup on a windy day or the idiot spraying perfume around a small office cubicle.

    I hear you and glad the council is listening. I’m constantly shutting my windows and feeling trapped by my own sensitivities as the neighbours or the council or the builders go about their business using all sorts of chemicals and with no warning to take the precaution. Like coming home from work to find your house stinks of paint or some other chemical because of what the neighbour did in their backyard while I was out – I always like to keep my windows open for fresh air – what a joke, hey?

    And smoke is a real problem where burn off happens often where I live and drives me to despair. Looking forward to hearing about councils response :)

Trackbacks

  1. […] months back, I was contacted by the editor of AESSRA in regards to publishing an article I wrote on my blog. So here it is: SM_HowToAskAssisCounl_13 At the time it was heartening; I was […]

  2. […] Now, Hamish, the sheep was a special guy. Definitetly part human, but also very temperamental. He was bit of a Ram; his horns were removed when he was young, but he still developed ‘Ram’ behaviour, and that’s what he chose to do, on occasion: ram! Cas thought it was funny, and she’d tackle him and make him stop; she had him trained. But Hamish had me trained too. Trained to run! Every time he was close to me, he had a go at ramming me. On his hierarchal scale of all living things on the farm, I was way below him, and all I could do was climb up onto the nearest fence or car bonnet. I think my fear of horses transmuted over to male sheep! But bless him, after I moved out, I found out he’d stared in this movie, on the same property! (There were two houses on this five acre property, and the bigger one was rented by someone else. I’ll blog about this later too; it’s important, because this experience with this neighbour was how I became so awesome at tackling local councils.) […]

  3. […] used for many different people and many different situations. Like the one I wrote for this post: How to Ask Your Local Council for Assistance. (It’s not situation specific; it doesn’t single any one person out, making them feel […]

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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