Our Respiratory System and the “20th Century Disease”
The memo came in the morning announcing to employees that the building owners were going to re-do the roof. They apologized, saying they were taking measures to minimize the inconvenience to tenants. They would try to reduce noise levels so as not to cause major disruption.
By mid-day, however, employees were complaining of nausea and headaches. The HR manager came and said that if anyone was feeling ill from the smell of tar, they should take the rest of the day off.
Tar is a chemical that is used to waterproof roofs to prevent moisture build-up. A common type is asphalt tar which is produced from petroleum refining processes. In their MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) the Owen Corning company stated that inhaling fumes, vapors or mists can irritate the respiratory system and that “roofing asphalt fumes are a potential occupational carcinogen” (Technical Assistance Services for Communities (TASC), Asphalt Roofing Tar Summary, prepared by E2 Inc, Virginia, USA).
No direct link between uncontrolled exposure to chemicals and cancer has been scientifically proven, but a growing number of people suspect that environmental pollutants do compromise our respiratory system. This illness has also been called “Multiple Chemical Sensitivity”, “Chemical Aids”, or “Twentieth Century Disease.”
Compromising our Respiratory System
Some chemical pollutants include:
- cigarette smoke
- ozone and nitrogen dioxide
- ulfur dioxide
- sick building syndrome – poor indoor air quality
- wood burning stoves
A physician described a condition known as TILT (toxicant-induced loss of tolerance). It happens when a person is exposed to toxic substances and then falls ill (weakness, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, inability to focus, headaches). Instead of getting better, his neurological and immune system remain damaged, and he is unable to recover. Because of a weakened and compromised immune system, his tolerance to chemicals and pollutants diminishes, making him ill more frequently.
The Cleveland Clinic says that multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) is controversial; reason why physicians do not consider it a disorder (not yet anyway) and therefore won’t make a diagnosis of MCS. The second reason is there are no tests for diagnosing MCS. The Cleveland Clinic says, “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that about one-third of people working in sealed buildings claimed to be sensitive to one or more common chemicals. More women than men claim to have MCS, and it appears to occur most often in people between the ages of 30 and 50 years.”
To give you an idea of the critical role of our respiratory system, our lungs are one of the largest organs and they work with our respiratory system, allowing us to breathe in and breathe out. We constantly inhale, even when we don’t deliberately do it, through our mouth and nose. Millions of particles go into our system; when we breathe out air (exhaling), it contains waste and carbon dioxide. If our respiratory system works like an efficient piece of machinery, the chemicals we inhale and exhale won’t harm us significantly, but what happens when chemical substances remain in our bodies because the body can no longer get rid of them as quickly as it should?