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Daily News Archive
From October 23, 2006                                                                                                        

Herbicides, Other Chemicals Aggravate MCS
(Beyond Pesticides, October 23, 2006) Every time her neighbors treat their lawns with standard chemical herbicides, Caryl Schonbrun fears for her life. She is one of many Americans living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity syndrome (MCS).

Ms. Schonbrun, 52, says MCS leaves her vulnerable to whiffs of substances that her system can no longer tolerate. She is sensitive to ingredients in herbicides as well as pesticides in general, and she says exposure to these chemicals can put her body into anaphylactic shock.

She is not alone. “There is no reliable prevalence data because the illness presents in such varied ways,” Dr. Claudia S. Miller, professor of environmental medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, told the New York Times. “But estimates of the number of persons who report having multiple intolerances that they recognize and that cause them to rearrange their lives ranges from 3 to 6 percent of the population.”

Since being diagnosed, Ms. Schonbrun has moved from San Diego to Tuscon to Fort Collins, Colorado, to escape chemicals, only to find them everywhere. This has led her and her husband, Bob, to build a “safe house” from hypoallergenic and nontoxic materials, complete with an infared sauna in which she detoxifies. Costing roughly 15 percent more than a standard but comparable house, the Schonbrun’s home includes a metal roof free of tar paper, no-chemical concrete, water-based stain, metal framing, and a whole-house water filter. Builder Rick Newman, of Fort Collins-based Natural Build, estimates the house to be 98 percent chemical-free.

Outside the safe zone of their house, though, the Schonbruns face a community that is not always understanding of MCS and how to accommodate it. Caryl is on the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s registry of chemically-sensitive people, in order to be notified in advance of commercial spraying. Neighbors, however, still use a variety of chemicals, and not all are receptive to the Schonbruns’ request for nontoxic herbicides. One has taken out a restraining order against Bob due to a dispute. Another, Mike Cada, is using the alternative product the Schonbruns purchased for him, but says with reservation, “I’m willing to do it as long as it’s effective,” also noting that the cost is more than 40 percent more than standard herbicides.

Hotly debated and often misunderstood, MCS remains a struggle for those who suffer from it and those who are unfamiliar with it. As Caryl says, “We were lucky enough to build a nontoxic home, but it’s still a never-ending struggle to live in a safe all-around environment.”

Read more about Caryl Schonbrun and her experience with MCS in the New York Times and the Coloradoan.

For more information on MCS, click here and here.

To join the National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns and sign the National Declaration on the Use of Toxic Lawn Pesticides, click here.