Do You Live in a Sick Home?

"Sick Home Syndrome" is slowly entering the vernacular as an increasing number of people discover they can't tolerate exposure to low levels of pollutants in their homes.


| March/April 1989



sick home - steel frame of house under construction

To limit opportunities for toxic outgassing that are characteristic of a sick home, some people build steel frame rather than wood frame houses.


PHOTO: JOHN BOWER

When Homo sapiens' predecessors paused to contemplate the threats around them, they looked outward. Whether they feared a lack of shelter from the weather, a simple shortage of food, or a large cat with a taste for human flesh, danger was "out there." Safety lay inward: toward the fire, behind the cave mouth, or inside the tent made of skins and mammoth bones. Arguably, our ongoing fascination with (and comfort in) home and hearth had such beginnings.

But for most of the earth's population, the rules of survival have changed dramatically in the last 10 or 20 millennia — changed much more rapidly than human social or genetic codes. Our ability to alter our environment has thoroughly outstripped our ability to adapt to it. As a result, we sometimes end up hobbled by our heritage. Our attitude toward our homes is a classic example. Despite the mounting evidence, we're slow to accept that under some circumstances home is not a sanctuary. Such is the case when a home becomes a sick home.

Between 5 million and 30 million Americans suffer from environmental illnesses brought on by barely discernible levels of a variety of toxins — chemical and biological — found in their own homes. Those numbers are startling, but even more alarming are estimates that only 5% of these so-called chemically sensitive people have recognized the source of their sickness and been treated for it. The numbers of the afflicted are burgeoning, yet neither the scientific/medical community nor the public has fully accepted just how much trouble can start at home.

Residential Toxins: Symptoms and Sources

Our Residential Toxins Chart is designed to help you pinpoint household toxins that might be causing the symptoms you or your family members are experiencing. The listings are far from exhaustive, but they do cover the most common symptoms and sources. Also bear in mind that some chemicals have been examined much more thoroughly than others, so many more symptoms and sources are known for them.

Start by writing down all the symptoms you've noticed. Then check through the ones on the chart to see if there's a toxin with a set of symptoms to match yours. You'll notice that many of the listed toxins can produce headaches, so you'll not be able to divine much from that symptom alone. Instead, look for a toxin that produces a pattern of symptoms similar to your own. Once you've found a candidate, move over to the far right, and see if you have a likely source for the pollutant in your home.

At this point, some recollection and analysis can be very helpful. Think about when symptoms started and whether there were any significant changes made to your home. Are all the occupants affected? Are people who spend the most time in the house most affected? Do occupants feel better when they leave the house? Are children or the elderly showing more pronounced symptoms? Are there times of the day or activities in certain rooms that make symptoms worse? "Yes" answers to any of these questions may help you further pinpoint the source of the problem.





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