How to ask for assistance from your local council

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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)

Take off your bra!

This bra doubles as a face mask (for two)

Okay, I’m having a terrible day, all because I drove my daughter to school this morning. (We usually leave at 8.00 am to avoid the traffic but today we were running late and left at 8.20 am, and had to crawl our way through the backstreets, and noxious traffic fumes that stung my eyes and nostrils like the fumes from caustic soda.) And now I’m sitting, writing this, with a nasty headache, my sinuses are pounding out pain from behind my face, and I’m trying not to think about the stupidity of not taking my mask with me.

That reminds me, I  need to add ‘ALWAYS CARRY A SPARE MASK IN THE CAR’ to my tips on ‘How to improve your life when sensitive to chemicals’ on my Maskology page. Then maybe I’ll remember.

 

Perhaps I wouldn’t have to if I could just whip off my bra (yes, in early morning traffic) and put it over my face.

This bra doubles as a face mask (for two)

Today I’m going to entertain myself (and hopefully, you) by writing a review on a bra. And a mask. It’s a bra that can be used as a mask. Yes, really. Why review this? Because it’s funny, funny in a laughing-hilariously-nearly-peeing-in-my-pants-funny type of way. Every time I read about it!

Because the whole idea of a chemically sensitive person (you know, the wear-a-mask-everywhere-they-go-type of chemically sensitive person) using a bra as a mask just cracks me up.

If you have chemical sensitivities and you have to wear a mask going out, I do hope you enjoy this blog entry. At least a little bit. And if you are a teenager, well you’re going to laugh anyway, but perhaps you’ll stop pointing and laughing at us chemically sensitive people when you spot us in shopping centres wearing masks, just for long enough to consider that IT IS RUDE to ridicule others. Oh, that’s right, (some of) the YouTube generation like to do that. Well, YouTube this (see YouTube below)! It’s just a friggen mask for charlie’s sake; it’s not like I’m out shopping while wearing a bra over my face. Now that would be funny… And weird…

Now, if you are a feminist (grass roots) you’ll like this too—well, the title anyway. By the way, have you ever considered that over 70% of people with chemical sensitivities are women aged between 30 and 50? Ever considered why? Or the fact that the majority of chemical based (fragrance) products are marketed towards the female side of the population? Well, this post is not about that. But do stay tuned by subscribing to this blog!

I don’t mean to make light of the catastrophe of 9/11 or the fall of Baghdad (or any other past, present, or future event with people getting caught in dilapidating buildings) but this mask would only be handy for attempting to survive this type of calamity. Or perhaps, if you’re at work and a newsflash on your Iphone notifies you of a sudden outbreak of SARS, or H1-N1 (swine flu) well then, you’ll have it covered in a nut shell bra-cup.

Okay, now watch Dr. Elena Bodnar, inventor of the Emergency Bra, take of her bra while demonstrating how to deploy it onto a suitably docile theoretical physicist (Think Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory!) at the Martin Wood Lecture Theatre, Oxford University during the IgNobel UK Tour 2010.

 

Note to non-chemically sensitive people: If you use Linx/Rexonna (or other petro-chemical/solvent laden sprucer upper-er) do not, I repeat, do not take of your bra in an emergency and offer one of your cups to a chemically sensitive person—it’s a really nice offer though! (Depending on their level of sensitivities) they may never make it out of the disaster area and your effort to help them will only suffice in hindering their escape (and even your own). You will be better off  either (1.) putting both masks on your own face, wrapping a towel around their head and carrying them out of the building; (2.) tell them to find their own way out because you sprayed on so many chemicals in the morning that you (obviously) don’t give a hooter’s boob about anyone else’s wellbeing; or (3.) go fragrance free for the good of your fellow man/woman, and yourself by using fragrance free products that don’t come out of an aerosol can and don’t contain artificial fragrance, and then, by all means, whip of your bra for the good of all human-kind…

Do you use a mask? Would you use this in an emergency? If you don’t use a mask, would you consider wearing a bra/mask just in case? If you were in this situation which would you choose option: 1, 2, or 3?

UPDATES:

(If you came to this page looking for bras suitable for people with chemical sensitivities—my site statistics show this has been happening—then you could try Blessed Earth (AUS), GAIAM (AUS), The Allergy shop (AUS), Rawganique (US), Cottonfield (US), Blue Canoe (US).)

(If you came to this page looking for actual masks to protect yourself from other people’s personal care products, chemicals, or other allergens, AESSRA (AUS) sell 3M masks, I Can Breathe (US) (AUS) sell masks suitable for light (depending on the individual’s sensitivities) exposures.)

(If you’re interested to see what fragrance free personal care products look like in Australia then click here. For laundry care, here.)

Copyright Michellina van Loder 2012. All words & photography by Michellina van Loder—unless otherwise stated.