Thursday, November 29, 2012

A breath of fresh air... or not

Photo by Petr Kratochvil

I grew up 2 blocks away from an asbestos plant. Day in and day out for the first 18 years of my life, I breathed in asbestos-infused air. Even though I lived in beautiful Lancaster County, where inner city kids traveled for the "Fresh Air" program, I was still exposed to dangerous toxins more commonly recognized in cities and industrial areas. 

Despite the many people who died in Manheim, including some of my relatives who worked at the plant, from asbestosis or mesothelioma, I never really thought about the dangers. Not until a few years ago when an x-ray revealed a spot on my lung. Uh oh. Fear gripped me as the realization hit that the asbestos plant just might kill me, too.

As it turns out, it was a false alarm... this time. But it got me thinking. In my late 20s, I developed a persistent cough that would not go away. I was treated for bronchitis and the likes. But antibiotics did nothing. I would cough until I threw up. Finally, I went to a pulmonary specialist who diagnosed me with asthma. I remember when Dr. Patrick walked into the exam room and pronounced the verdict. I told him to leave and come back again with a diagnosis for something curable. He didn't comply. 

In some ways, seeing Dr. Patrick was a blessing. It was he who finally put a name to the illness I'd been suffering with since I was 16 -- Epstein-Barr Virus Syndrome. I was very ill my junior year of high school, missing months of school and an entire year of extra-curricular activity. At first, I was diagnosed with mononucleosis, but the diagnosis eventually changed. It had a different name at the time, which I no longer recall, but Dr. Patrick recognized it and sent me for testing for EBVS. Chronic Epstein Barr is a lifetime illness that, according to a study in Boston a few years ago, gives sufferers a higher risk for multiple sclerosis. Of the individuals with MS involved in the research study, 100% of them had the Epstein Barr virus present in their systems. At one point, in my late 20s, early 30s, my EBVS was so severe, the doctors thought I had MS. I could barely walk and, in addition to loads of pain, I experienced extreme weakness and fatigue. Not fun for a mom with 2 young children.

I'm much better these days. Why? Well, for one thing, I'm no longer exposed to daily doses of fumes and vapors from the asbestos plant. And for another, my husband of 8 years, died. What does that have to do with any of this? Simple. My husband, Jim, worked for a chemical plant in Pittsburgh. The chemicals he worked with were so volatile, he had to be tested for leukemia every 6 months. Naive and foolish, it never occurred to me that he should quit the job and opt for something safer. Sadly, in September of 1989, a chemical spill and an electrical box located too close to his unit caused a flash fire that killed him.

In the months following Jim's death, an amazing thing happened. I started to get better. The pain lessened. Strength returned. My daily exposure to the chemicals he brought home with him 5 days a week was gone. I was no longer breathing in the residue from the resins he was basically saturated with. Prior to his death, a wise doctor made the connection between my EBVS and my extreme chemical sensitivity. We started isolating my exposure as best we could. He used one car exclusively for work. He laundered his clothing separately from mine. It helped, but it wasn't enough. Even after a shower, Jim smelled, and tasted, like the chemicals from the plant. 

Today, my asthma is under control. There are several reasons for that. For one thing, I have removed as many toxins from my home as possible. We use absolutely no harsh chemicals in our house. While bleach will bring on a full-fledged asthma attack for me, vinegar will not. Plain and simple. I also started taking daily doses of a product called Silver Plus from Innerlight. It is ionized colloidal silver, gold, titanium and copper and I take a couple drops under my tongue once to twice a day. The results are remarkable. I'm no longer taking yearly trips to the ER for steroid shots and breathing treatments. 

As far as my EBVS, it's better, but flares up unexpectedly. After all, I have no control over the toxins used in stores, restaurants... even my church. When I'm exposed, I can expect problems. Airborne toxins are brutal for me. And, even if you don't know it, they can brutal to you as well. How often have I heard, "She ended up with lung cancer and never smoked a day in her life;" as if smoking was the only toxin we have to worry about!

As careful as I am, I might end up dying from lung cancer someday. And some people will mock, "See! All that green stuff she touted... look where it got her." If this happens, I hope someone will remind them of my 18 years breathing in asbestos particles, and my 8 years with a husband who simply wanted to provide for his family, never realizing the danger he was putting us all in.

Today, I pray for my daughters, whose exposure to the dangerous chemicals in their early years just might make them ill someday. May God's great mercy shelter them.

Read more interesting posts on this topic at the Clean Air and Environmental Justice for All: A MomsRising Blog Carnival.


  1. Wow, it is incredible what a few simple choices/changes can make. I am trying to convince a friend and family member to give up her bleach as she (and two of her kids) battle asthma. She just won't do it. It breaks my heart.


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