Dear Quarantined and Socially Distanced

I’m sorry you have to experience this, but am glad that it is just a temporary experience for you and your family. I personally know how difficult it is (times  1000 or more).

Hopefully if you actually do become ill, it will pass quickly and there will be no lasting effects.

It is more than likely that most of you will have all the medical assistance, food, toilet paper, and everything else that you will need to have available to deal with basic creature comforts and needs, so it will be just the habitual and a few social comforts that are temporarily disrupted for you.

Did you know that more than a few people are not as fortunate, and experience this kind of segregation full time, with no vacations, with few, if any of the relatively easily accessible (to most) basic amenities? And they aren’t criminals!

Say what?

Some of us who have environmental health related disabilities, have been forced to live segregated lives for years, as we must avoid fragrances and other everyday  exposures that can have debilitating, disabling effects on us, because accessibility policies, if they even exist, aren’t enforced.

Life as a human canary with chemical or environmental ‘sensitivities’ often  means permanent social distancing or isolation (especially when the condition becomes more severe) because it’s currently ok for society to sell and use all kinds of toxic fragranced products, as well as other health harming materials. These and other systemic accessibility barriers (including lack of safe housing or access to appropriate health care)  prevent what is needed for people to heal.

It also means being incredibly vulnerable if things do get slowed or shut down, if our allergy and sensitivity safe foods or medicines aren’t available, because many of us can’t eat regular food, fast food, emergency food, etc., and already have a very limited amount of what can already be hard to find foods that are safe to eat. Sometimes there are no substitutions due to supply chain contamination.

Many people in our towns and cities, this province (over 400,000 in Ontario), the country (over 1008,400 in Canada), and millions more around the world have been forced to self isolate and practice ‘social distancing’, losing their jobs, families, housing, etc., when the “sensitivity’ to pollutants becomes severe and there are no (enforced) accessibility policies that make it safe to be around people who choose to use certain products instead of others that don’t cause adverse effects.

Most human canaries, who are seriously “sensitive” to pollution wouldn’t have to go into solitary like this if some simple accessibility barriers were removed.

I’m sure you’ve seen comments or posters about scent or fragrance-free policies, but how many apply to all products, including laundry products, the washroom soap, air effers, and other cleaning products? How many policies are enforced? How many places are there that have harmful product, food, material, and chemical avoidance policies? How many doctors and health care settings are totally fragrance-free (without scented carpets, people, etc)?

Family members going about their daily business end up bringing home 2nd and 3rd hand fragrances on clothing and other belongings and cause disabling adverse effects that can take human canaries days or longer to recover from.

Homes aren’t built with separate air spaces and washrooms or double laundry areas so that family members, friends, or other care-givers can detox their  bodies, hair and clothing before entering the home space and contaminating the air, furnishings, and the person who must avoid exposures to remain functional.

What about books, papers, clothing, toilet paper, art or sewing supplies… things to do when isolated? They can all be inherently too toxic and/or fragrance contaminated from supply chains and stores.

Medicines are fragrance contaminated in pharmacies that sell fragranced products. Foods become fragrance saturated in grocery stores that sell fragranced products, and cause horrible reactions if eaten. Mail is also toxic and fragrance  saturated, especially when postal outlets also sell fragranced products.

Exposures cause pain, cognitive challenges, neurological dysfunction, breathing difficulties, skin problems, fatigue, digestive problems, and any other symptom associated with poisoning. We are being poisoned by little doses everywhere.

The toxic chemicals in most everyday products and materials are not regulated, and fragranced products are full of toxic chemicals (see other posts and resources on this site).

This forced segregation due to accessibility barriers that could be removed if not for the attitudinal barriers, is all of course a serious human rights violation, (MCS/ES is recognized by the OHRC and CHRC) but when one is so disabled, so isolated, how can one find and work with lawyers to take down discrimination and barriers that are systemic?

Perhaps our lives aren’t as important as habits and harmful products are?

Accommodating us requires others to change product habits, habits that have been instilled in us as necessary parts of life by years of commercials and clever marketing, while at the same time manufacturing becomes less regulated, toxic substances are cheaper (due to subsidies), and are more fossil fool based.

Most of the substances that harm human canaries (people with chemical and environmental “sensitivities”) also harm others, but at a slower rate. Some even contribute to more outdoor pollution than cars and trucks do now!

I hope if you find yourself quarantined, when you are free again, that as a result of this experience you will be more willing to change products and habits and also advocate for those who experience long term (if not life-time) isolation and survival difficulties due to systemic accessibility barriers, so that they (we) too may experience freedom and human connection again.

Perhaps you can volunteer some fragrance-free assistance to those who aren’t able to access regular services. Maybe you can organize a more coordinated system to make sure the needs of human canaries, those who are ‘sensitive’ to pollution,  are taken into consideration and met, before the wisdom of the birds is lost.

Chronic health problems are experienced by more than half the population now (including children) and human extinction is possible if we don’t change what we do and how we do it. Respecting and learning from the experiences of human canaries,  people with chemical and other environmental “sensitivities” could have prevented many of the chronic health problems society experiences and faces today.

Once the canaries are gone, it will be hard to learn which essentials are too toxic for consumption and use, and what kinds of changes are needed to ensure the long term health and well-being of all beings.

Honouring and respecting lives and the environment we all depend on for life requires some changes, but they are changes we can manage, and changes we must embrace if we want to ensure a good quality of life for future generations.

You all know that clean has no smell.

Using fragrance-free soap to wash hands, (frequently, so you don’t make others sick) and fragrance-free sanitizer (without quats) if it’s not possible to wash hands,  are a couple of easy ways to remove some pervasive accessibility barriers!

For more ways to remove fragranced barriers, see The Fragrance-free Checklist.

14 responses to “Dear Quarantined and Socially Distanced

  1. Byron Woolcock

    Thank you yet again for your continued powerful witness to health, life and the future. A very thoughtful article.
    As you know my main toxicant encountered now in retirement is local wood smoke, which is also true for many people. However the direct and transfer factors of toxic fragrances has, as you mention, reached “epidemic ” proportions, affecting everyone and this good Earth we share. There may be still time for enough folks to wake up and listen to,the canaries who indeed are seriously sensitive and seriously concerned.

  2. Jeanette Marfield

    great article – we’ve lived it for years so totally understand

  3. There’s some information about fragrance ingredients at the tab on the top of this site (the page has been updated but is still a work in progress, and has some formatting issues that I hope to be able to figure out eventually… It’s the information there that is most important though).

  4. Here’s another person sharing their story:

  5. Pingback: Two Tales: Temporarily Quarantined or Isolated Forever | Seriously "Sensitive" to Pollution

  6. Thank you so much for putting into words the thoughts that go through my head about this. It’s difficult to share what I suffer because of fragrance, smoke and allergy sensitivities because most won’t even listen. As for those who do listen I perceive they really don’t or can’t get it.

    It’s on my mind that because of this current pandemic people have a “choice” to self isolate and practice social distant, let alone how many health care workers and scientists are working so diligently world wide to solve the issue. Such would be a miracle If even half as much was being done to undo the dilemma that causes so much suffering and permanent “social distance” for us canaries.

    • and then she worked those thoughts into a longer piece (some excerpts below):

      “I don’t experience or expect the same level of trust on a large scale – ableism is too much of a thing 2 – but I dream of a future in which everyone is valued equally, one where we can name the things that get in the way of an ethic of committing to figuring out a solution that leaves no one behind. As a species we are capable of bringing such creativity to the problem-solving involved in even the most complex and uncertain contexts – especially if we can broaden the confines of normalcy (see below).”

      I’ve been reflecting lately about how trying to pass as “normal” (for my own comfort or others) holds me back from wellbeing. I had a moment recently where I stepped back and failed to recognize my own life. It feels at times like I’m living in an alternate reality. This fall I had to radically transform my already weird home space. I began reacting to the second-hand fragrance and chemicals my partner picked up at work and other public spaces, and we had to devise new strategies pronto. Now we sequester work clothes (and other compromised items) on a covered fire escape and have a complex ritual for when my partner comes home.”

      I want to name and affirm that this is a scary time for all of us. And I want to name and affirm that it is an especially scary time for those who are not seen as valuable, who are experiencing re-traumatization, who cannot trust that they would be deemed worthy of saving, who experience the medical system as hostile,4 and who are marginalized in countless other ways. Please, let’s be there for each other. Now and always.”

  7. Related,
    from Sins Invalid – An Unshamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility:

    Social Distancing and Crip Survival: A Disability Centered Response to COVID-19

  8. Honourable mention in this post:

    !!! Show Your Cripself that You Are Loved !!!

    “We’ve watched / read / heard so much information about the Novel Coronavirus — And most of it has made us more anxious and less grounded.

    We want to offer Folks a little bit of grounded support.”

  9. I’m happy to have stumbled upon this incredible site!!! I’ve actually been saying, “I’m so tired of being the canary in the coal mine”! I am so isolated because fragrance sets off such an intractable migraine episode I usually end up going to the hospital by ambulance for dehydration from the constant vomiting.
    The last episode had me flat in bed for 28 days straight, no exaggeration! I was virtually blind for 3 weeks because the tiniest bit of light was excruciatingly painful.

    Oh I could go on…

    I’m looking forward to exploring more of this site and maybe finding some tips. I’m disabled and I can’t find a PCA (personal care assistant) because people can’t seem to de-scent themselves.

    I live in the U.S.A, which has hardly any restrictions on harmful chemicals due to corruption.

    Peace. Love & Light,

  10. Hi Nancy ❤️

    It seems like fragrance prevalence is worse than smoking ever was, and if people go out in public, the cross-contamination can be bad, with the fragrance residues sticking on hair, skin, and clothing.

    I am dismayed that the health care system still refuses to address the harms they allow to continue by not banning fragranced products for workers and buildings.

    I hope we reach the tipping point for change soon!

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