Why I Do What I Do

Canaries In The Coal Mine
Canaries In The Coal Mine
This week, our Toasmasters Club held a speech contest. We do this two times per year. On a whim, or in a moment of temporary insanity, I decided to enter the contest. I was then inspired to write a blog post similar to the speech. Then, I decided to just give you the text of my speech. Here it is:

Canaries and perfumes and migraines.

Mister Toastmaster, Fellow Toastmaster & Distinguished guests. Can those 3 things – canaries, perfumes & migraines – really be related? Trust me, they can.

It started for me at 16 with just one perfume. It was called Emeraude and it was my favorite perfume. I still remember the shape of the glass bottle with the gold-colored cap. And the emerald green liquid inside. And if close my eyes I can still smell it’s fragrance.

Yet one day I developed what seemed to be an allergy to that perfume. It gave me a terrible headache. A migraine, actually, but it will be 30 years will pass before I learn it was a migraine. It turned out to not be the only perfume. Over time it became all perfumes, fragrances and anything containing fragrances. I couldn’t be near fragrances, even on other people.

It reached a crisis point when the migraines became chronic. Every day. All day. And the doctors? They didn’t care WHY. They said it was female hormones. And they prescribed drugs.

So that’s my first connection – perfumes that triggered migraines for me.

But this isn’t about me. If it were, we could stop now. It’s much bigger than one person who can’t tolerate perfumes.

It’s about what I learned when I went searching for answers. Answers that doctors did not have.

And I learned a lot!

  • I learned that the use of petroleum-based chemicals and synthetic chemicals has increased drastically since World War II.
  • I learned that some of these chemicals are known to be toxic and some are even known to cause cancer.
  • I learned that the chemicals can play a role in: asthma, allergies, autism, headaches, migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, gulf war syndrome, and that’s just a few of them.
  • I learned that these chemicals – including benzene, acetone, formaldehyde, ethylene glycol – antifreeze, PERC / perchloroethylene – used in dry cleaning – are everywhere. They are used in solvents, glues, paints, in clothing manufacture, dry cleaners, household and industrial cleaning products, and even personal care products and perfumes.

Especially perfumes.

Why perfumes? That’s easy. Most of these chemicals are volatile. In fact they’re classified as VOCs – volatile organic compounds. In perfumes, they help the perfume’s fragrance disperse through the air. Have you ever been in a car when someone used hand lotion or hand sanitizer? And the perfume smell invades the entire space? That’s the work of the VOCs.

What are the ingredients in a perfume? No one knows because the fragrance industry says it’s a “trade secret.” You won’t find an ingredient list on a perfume bottle. And a shampoo or lotion or hand sanitizer containing a fragrance will merely list that single word – FRAGRANCE.

Tests have found many of the chemicals I listed earlier in perfumes. What about the FDA? The FDA admits they can’t monitor or test most of the 80,000 chemicals within their purview. But, they say, it’s okay, because the fragrance industry is self-governed.

In addition to learning about the chemicals in our 21st century world, I learned about the canaries. See, I have not forgotten the canaries.

Do you know the story of the canaries in the coal mine? Years ago, miners took canaries down in the coal mines because the canaries were more sensitive to deadly gases. As long as the canaries sang, there wasn’t a problem. But if they stopped singing, it was time to get out of that mine.

Through the magic of the internet, I have found many people who share my sensitivity to fragrances and chemicals. And they consider themselves to be the 21st century version of the canaries in the coal mine.

All of them sensitive to the chemicals in our modern world to varying degrees.

Some, like me, can manage being out in public, within reason.

Some are unable to work in an office because of all the chemicals they encounter – whether from coworkers’ fragrances or chemicals used in the building.

Others must wear a gas mask when out in public.

And still others are unable to go out in public.

All of them canaries.

Chemical sensitivity is real. Conservative estimates suggest that it impacts between 2 and 10 percent of the US population, but it could be much higher.

The symptoms it causes vary from person to person. It’s mechanism isn’t fully understood. But it is being studied, including researchers here in San Antonio.

Like anything that isn’t fully understood, it is surrounded by controversy. Some medical professionals question if it’s a real condition.

But the Canaries? We know. We know that to some degree everyone who is exposed to chemicals is being harmed. That includes each of you.

That is why we are singing.

We are singing to warn you and everyone else. Warning you to find less toxic products — for your body, for your home, and for your environment.

You could be next. Or your children. Or your grandchildren.

Where do your start? Start by by getting rid of the synthetic perfumes, fragranced products
and air fresheners. It isn’t just fragrances, but that’s a good place to start.

Do it for yourself. For your pets. For your family. For your kids. For your grandchildren.

So, tell me in the comments …

What products can you replace in your home?

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