Relocation: Part 1

Relocation is a huge step in a person’s life, and as statistics from a relocation survey I conducted in 1996 illustrated, relocation has had widely varying results for chemically sensitive people.

One of the first problems that arises with relocation is that if a person with MCS is being at least temporarily supported by a spouse, then it would be a major decision for that spouse to give up his or her job, which is paying the family bills. And it is often hard to find a job that is equally good in the area to which the couple wants to relocate. If children are involved, then relocation almost always means that they are uprooted from their friends and schools. Nowadays that can involve a particularly difficult adjustment.

During the decades that I’ve followed the lives of people with MCS, I have been struck by how a health condition that can have such a terrible effect on the life of the sick person can also have immense consequences for their spouse, parents, siblings, or children. I am increasingly of the opinion that the person with MCS should strive to reduce the number of sacrifices that they ask or expect of the person or persons offering key financial, physical, and emotional support. Although we are all conditioned by the principle from traditional marriage vows that states “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part,” I would suggest that every individual has a right to strive for happiness and there is a limit to which a person should be expected to sacrifice his or her own chance of happiness in order to support a sick spouse, partner, or family member.

I’ve seen, however, many admirable cases of spouses, usually husbands (although that is gradually changing), who give up much of what they enjoy in life in order to move to the desert or somewhere they don’t want to live in order to see if relocation will help their spouse. A beautiful and moving account of such a relationship appears in my June 3 post titled “Linda Grommes’s story, as told by her husband.”

Although in some cases the depth of love and commitment between the couple is so great that sacrifices are willingly made, there are also many cases in which the spouses feel that they are being asked to give up very important things that make them happy for an experiment whose outcome is uncertain.

If you do decide that you want to relocate, it is important to plan your move as carefully as possible to increase your chance of success. The article about relocation that I published in my newsletter in November 1996 included reports from several people about their experience relocating. Some of these stories may help you avoid certain mistakes. This post includes several of these stories, and my next post will include the others.

Irene Wilkenfeld wrote:

I had a new home built in 1987.  It was supposed to have been “safer.”  It turned out to be very toxic because the builder willfully used HCHO-laden materials, thinking I wouldn’t know the difference.  (I was out-of-state during construction phase.)  After that toxic house experience, we moved four times until we ultimately found a relatively safe home.

Audis Compton listed several reasons for her three relocations:

  1. Farm chemicals, fireplace heat, dust in attic, possibly mold inside walls at farm.

  2. Desperately ill after sauna treatments. Tried mountains of North Carolina.  Though rural and nonfarm area, there was considerable mold, neighborhood pesticides were bad, and there was methane gas exposure from sewage exhaust.

  3. House in city pretty good, but old plaster dust was a problem.

  4. Presently live in a small, all wood, old house. No plywood, etc., little insulation.  No close neighbors and no farming.  Great!!

One woman who had moved frequently cited these problems with various areas:

Colorado–allergic to plants; widespread aerial spraying for mosquitos and tree pests (trees are a crop!); widespread spraying for weeds by roads (both private and government spraying); wood smoke.

Arizona–allergic to plants; air pollution in Tucson; molds in soil in the desert are particularly virulent; wood smoke, believe it or not.

California–molds by the ocean; air pollution inland; congestion everywhere now in Southern California.

Texas–mold, mold, and more mold.  I would be a cripple if I lived there.

Minneapolis–lawn spraying in the city and suburbs; crop spraying in the country; oil heat and wood smoke.  At least there is a long winter that is free of pollens and terpenes, the plants are least allergenic for me (grasses and hardwoods), and there is less spraying of public buildings and private homes than in the South and Southwest.  The spray season is shorter.  Also, I have a social support network here.  The effects of isolation in Colorado, Arizona, California, and Texas cancelled any potential benefits.

Lee Grover wrote from Texas:

I may have to relocate again to leave Blanco, Texas, because of tire burning at several cement kilns to the east and southeast, plus increased building in this part of the Hill Country.  While Blanco, Wimberley, etc., are still good, their days are numbered.

D.A. reported:

The first home we bought in Arizona was fine until neighbors on three sides became heavy pesticide users.

Lana Miller wrote:

I have moved dozens of times:

Oregon suburbia to Washington woods/wilderness

Portland, Oregon to Hawaii

Hawaii to Oregon countryside

House to a motor home

Trailer to house

House to trailer

Large town to small town to country

Off-grid to on-grid–away from traffic, on and on and on.

Social isolation has played a big part in my not being able to stay somewhere, lack of support group, living too close to parked cars or street traffic, high concentration of wood smoke in winter months, lack of medical treatment, poor finances, unable to find safe living quarters.  County ran me off bare land where I was living in my camp trailer.

From North Little Rock, Arkansas, K.P. reported:

Since 1988, I have moved about four times a year.  I’ve moved all around my community.  I lived in the country for a year and a half at one time.  Car exhaust and old moldy house and loneliness ran me back to town.  Moved to New Mexico for three and a half months to be near my kids.  The stress of them not accepting me and home sickness for my home state drove me back home to old community.  I decided to make my present home as safe as possible and to stop moving around.  The stress of never feeling like I had a home was keeping me sick too.  Now when the pain gets severe from traffic, I just get in my car and go somewhere for a while until the rush traffic is gone or the people stop mowing their yards, etc.  I can do this because I have many friends who understand my condition.  Since my energy level has improved over the years, I can do many things to remove myself from a painful situation.  I also go for walks to stop the pain because being outdoors is one of my best treatments.

A 71-year-old woman wrote:

After the LA earthquake, I had to leave my damaged home.  I was essentially homeless for close to a year.  I rented a small apartment for four months.  I slept outside on family and friends’ decks.  I camped on a hillside in a nudist camp for four months that summer until it rained.

Alison Johnson’s note: At least in the nudist camp she wouldnt have encountered scented detergents and fabric softeners on people’s clothing.


R.I.C.I. reported:

I have moved nine times, to nine different houses, not including the three years we moved around in a travel trailer trying to find a safe place.  At first we found leaking gas and pesticides in the home.  Sometimes we found pesticides in houses.  Sometimes close-by neighbors used outdoor pesticides.  Sometimes agricultural pesticides made me sick.  Sometimes proximity to traffic made me sick.  Sometimes factory smoke from a great distance made me sick.  Each move was to gain greater control of my outdoor environment and get as clear as possible an indoor environment.

Stacey Heuer commented:

We lived in New Jersey downstream from the Picatinny Arsenal.  We had so many chemicals in our water we were told not to bathe in it.  Aerial pesticide spraying occurred regularly.  We moved to Vermont and found much of the same problems, but on a smaller scale–what a disappointment.

Note from Alison Johnson: While Vermont is a very attractive place to live in most respects, much of the state is crisscrossed by narrow and deep little valleys containing houses that are being heated by wood-burning stoves. As you drive along on the back roads during much of the year, you can’t even roll down your car window without smelling wood smoke.

There are many beautiful mountain communities in a state like Colorado, and chemically sensitive people often think that heading to those mountains will enable them to find wonderfully clean air. The problem is that in such areas it is easy to get cheap firewood, the winters are cold, and the steep foothills and mountains keep the smoke from blowing away.

All chemically sensitive people should be watching carefully the rapidly expanding number of forest fires in the west of the United States. When an area begins to burn, people who are particularly reactive to smoke will have an especially difficult time finding a safe haven for retreat. Heading west or to the desert is more problematic than ever for those with MCS.

The smoke from the huge forest fires that have raged in California this summer travels eastward on the prevailing winds, and people in Rocky Mountain National Park have been able to smell it in the air on some days. In a twitter feed, the National Weather Service of San Diego stated: “Smoke from the western fires is making it all the way to the East Coast and beyond (at least aloft–mostly above a mile above the surface).  .  .  .  Another map showed some smoke near the surface even in New England.”

Although the smoke is reaching New England, there is clearly much to be said about putting yourself as far as possible from the western areas that are experiencing such a rash of forest fires. While northern New England is heavily forested, it is cooler and much more humid than the arid western states, so there are fewer forest fires in the region.