Monday, July 27, 2009

A Chemical Nightmare at Work

Last week, I was sitting in my office and began to notice an odd smell, sort of sickly sweet. Ignoring it against my better judgment for several days, I was even told by my astute boss---who is well aware that I have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)---that something seemed amiss. 

Since last week, I've been noticing increased confusion, memory loss, and a marked increase in my level of stress and anxiety. Granted, we are in the midst of selling our home and radically changing our lives, but this past week my emotional life has been over the top and I have been feeling physically unwell. 

Today, my (chemically sensitive) wife came to visit my office, remarking immediately that my office seemed incredibly toxic to her and that I should leave immediately. Just prior to her arrival, I had literally been crawling around on the floor, trying to "sniff out" where the offending odor was coming from, an odor that had by now become almost overpowering in its sweet disgustingness. 

With my nose on the top of the heat register, I detected the source of the odor emanating directly from the heater, even though it wasn't on. 

Bringing two colleagues into the office, they both agreed that the smell was very strong and that I should leave for the day and we would try to get to the bottom of it. Just then, one colleague mentioned that someone had moved into the office directly below mine last Tuesday, and perhaps there was a connection. Looking back, it was indeed Tuesday or Wednesday of last week that I began to feel unwell and that the faint smell had begun to make itself known. 

Running down to the first floor with my wife, we quickly located the office directly below mine (which I had never before noticed), and although the door was closed and locked, the smell coming through the cracks was absolutely the same odor now filling my office on the second floor, although the intensity of it as it emanated through the door was enough to send us reeling. 

My guess is that the new resident of this office installed a "Plug-In" on the day she moved in, the sort of plug-in that is filled with noxious liquid fragrance that is heated via an electrical outlet. These insidious and ubiquitous devices have taken over, with Americans of all economic stripes convinced that their homes will not smell "clean" without such unhealthy trash that poisons the very air that they and their children breathe. 

Since the building manager was out, I sent him an urgent email explaining the situation, left work early (with dizziness and confusion continuing), and will not return to my office until the space has off-gassed for several days. 

So, although I have fought for a fragrance-free workplace, low-VOC paints, "green" cleaning products, and other accommodations, this employee who moved into the office downstairs unwittingly created a toxic environment for me that has subsequently caused me a week of distress, confusion, and other neurological symptoms that will, I hope, decrease as the next few days allow me to detox from its deleterious effects. 

When one has MCS (or even if one does not), there are poisons and toxins everywhere that can damage our health and cause us temporary or permanently debilitating symptoms that directly impact our ability to fully function in the world. 

I was glad to get to the bottom of this situation, and hope that it will be rectified shortly and that I can recover from the impact of this unfortunate chemical event. 

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