My Journey Home From Chemical Sensitivities


It is a privilege to write a blog for Mother Earth and to share my area of expertise with you in the hope that it will enhance your health. By way of introduction I will begin by describing the journey that has led me to specialize in the design of healthy homes and workplaces.  This path began in 1972 when I happened upon the University of Toronto, School of Architecture, almost by chance, with a good handle on math, a love of art and very little understanding of architecture. There I began a life-long inquiry into what makes space beautiful and good.

Fast forward to 1992: I was a practicing architect in Santa Fe NM and was struggling with a mysterious chronic illness that had remained undiagnosed for years, even though I had seen many doctors. Finally my new doctor, Erica Elliott, discovered what was wrong with me. Unfortunately, this information was as a result of a shocking discovery about her own health; she too was troubled by a constellation of disabling symptoms that eluded diagnosis by her colleagues.Prescription for a Healthy House book

Although the particular array of symptoms was quite different for each of us she perceived that they both had the same root cause: chemical over-exposure had made us hyper-sensitive. Subsequent testing proved her theory to be correct. A person with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), as the condition is called, becomes symptomatic at very low levels of exposure to a wide variety of toxins, allergens and even electromagnetic fields commonly found in our modern world. My symptoms included fatigue, frequent respiratory infection, hyper-sensitivity to certain odors, muscular pain, and increased food and pollen allergies.

Aside from not feeling well most of the time, the more monumental realization was that, as an architect who frequented homes under construction, I was constantly being exposed to, and made sick by, the thousands of products and building materials used in new home construction that emitted toxic chemicals. I reasoned that if these chemicals were so devastating for me then they must not be very good for anyone else who gets exposed to them including the factory workers where these products were produced, the contractors who installed them and the future inhabitants.

I felt an ethical duty to become fully informed so that I could protect my clients. I researched different aspects of building that could affect human health. I gathered information about the chemical composition of conventional construction materials and found healthier alternatives. I also gained a deeper understanding of current building practices that could lead to “sick” buildings over time through mold growth, accumulation of combustion bi-products, pest intrusions, or lack of proper ventilation. In addition Dr Elliott and I engaged in endless discussions combining her medical knowledge with my design/building knowledge to try to determine how we could help people to create safer environments once they had already become ill.

As I began to write about this, I received many calls from chemically sensitive people from all over the country, people who needed help. In 1997, I teamed up with Dr. Erica Elliott and John Banta, an experienced “house doctor,” to write a book entitled “Prescriptions for a Healthy House” in response to these countless inquiries. We brought the architectural, medical and building science disciplines together in order to explain why healthier homes were necessary and how to build them.

5/5/2013 3:09:52 PM

I have this book, and will review it on my bog: I also hope to build a house soon, so it's something i already treasure. It was recomended to me by a support group for people with chemical sensitivities over here, in Australia. That's how far you've reached Paula, thank you.

Michellina ~ The Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivites - and finding my way out

4/25/2013 10:26:28 AM

I empathize with Paula and congratulate her for her endurance, persistence, self-discipline and empathy for those who are suffering from environmental toxins. I too practiced architecture and worked in toxic office environments.

Many people who have EI, environmental illnesses, do not know it. I was one of them. I was extremely lucky when a total stranger phoned me in response to my letters to a newspaper about regional pollution, to inform me that I was poisoned. I immediately believed her, and that was my start on a long path to full recovery.

Here is my account, “Why the Research Chemist made his own Soap.” It describes my two diverse backgrounds, my slow accumulation of many ill health symptoms and my full recovery:

It is my hope that this story will help others, who are suffering from causes that can have so many different symptoms. That makes diagnosis very difficult.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters