Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Environmental Refugees: The New "Homeless"

The environmentally ill are fast becoming the “new homeless”. With the ever increasing amount of toxic substances used in and around homes, many environmentally ill persons find themselves unable to tolerate living in traditional housing. It soon becomes a struggle in which safe housing is desperately sought, but often unavailable. Victims may find they are forced to camp outside or dwell in vehicles.

A few issues of concern include new construction, pesticide spraying by neighbors, plug-in use by attached neighbors, nearby traffic fumes, neighbors laundry fumes, remodeling or new painting, gas heating, gas appliances, new carpets, prior pesticide application, prior plug-in use in the home, proximity to agriculture, proximity to industry, neighbors wood smoke, nearby electric line or transformer, nearby golf courses (heavily sprayed), neighbors who smoke, mold/mildew, nearby airports (jet fumes), prior use of incense, prior use of aromatherapy, and lead, radon, and asbestos levels. Actually these things should be of concern to everyone who is seeking housing, not just the environmentally ill. Many scientific studies have shown the ill effects these common things have on human health.

The environmentally ill still have the larger challenge. By this list alone, it is obvious few housing options are open to them. Often moves must take place within 30 - 45 days, yet that is insufficient time to locate a suitable home with so many restrictions. Adding to this challenge, discrimination by landlords who view the disabled as problem tenants must be overcome. While the environmentally ill must make their needs known so there is no danger of making a huge mistake both financially and health wise, there is also the concern that the mere mention of multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), asthma, or disability will hinder any chance of securing a dwelling. Despite this, few would be likely to move again once a suitable rental is found. Quite to the contrary, most environmentally ill patients go the extra mile to maintain their home.

The cost of housing can be daunting too. The types of housing most suitable to the environmentally ill person are generally the more isolated homes & single unit structures in remote areas that add to the price paid. Subsisting on failing work attempts and/or disability often pushes these properties out of financial reach. Prospective landlords may also worry a disabled person will fail to pay the rent, though once on disability the income is steady and a budget is kept.

Difficulty finding a new home is inevitable. However, there are ways to circumvent problems, such as looking early and not waiting until the last minute. If you have environmental illness, write down what your needs are in a list for your realtor or landlord. Ask landlords to include “no spraying” and other clauses in the lease so you have some legal protection when they decide there is a flea problem a month later and you need to ensure that the safest alternatives are used to control the infestation. And most importantly be prepared with a backup plan in case you fail to find a residence or move into a residence that is too toxic for you to stay. A single walk-though is not sufficient to determine safety of a home. Chronic low-level exposures could set in a few days after moving and create a downward spiral requiring immediate relief via escaping the home. Have provisions packed in the car in case you must make an escape. Be prepared, anticipate problems, and have a backup plan in place and your move should go as smooth as possible.

If you are a landlord or seller, be patient with questions and give truthful answers about your property. Working together with your tenants can make a happy and profitable situation for you both. Environmentally ill patients often improve dramatically upon finding safe housing and are a wealth of information about product safety that could prevent unexpected injury to you and your family.

Copyrighted © 2007 Lourdes Salvador

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