Barb Wilkie's EHN Website
Last updated 2008

EHN Board President Barb Wilkie was very ill from chemically-induced kidney disease for several years. She passed away May 31, 2011. EHN presents this site both as a tribute and as valuable information. Many links and references will be out of date but Barb's research holds up over time. We will be transferring the site page by page, with updated details, to EHN's main site. If you would like to reach an EHN staff person, please contact us directly.


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Letter to CNN
RE: What's ailing school near World Trade Center?


Dear Editor:

Yes, elevated levels of carbon dioxide could cause some problems, but there are plenty of toxins that escape tests. And there are plenty of unwittingly and commonly used consumer products that can add substantially to air pollution and subsequent ill health, and cause debilitating and disabling effects.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tells us that tests do not pick up all the pollutants that cause health problems. See their publication, "Indoor Air Facts No. 4 (revised) -- Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)" Excerpted: "Contaminant concentration levels rarely exceed existing standards and guidelines even when occupants continue to report health complaints." That phrase stands on its own, but to my mind is heightened by the words, "existing standards and guidelines." But that's another book. Source:

The EPA also tells us: "Studies have found that levels of several organics average 2 to 5 times higher indoors than outdoors. During and for several hours immediately after certain activities, such as paint stripping, levels may be 1,000 times background outdoor levels." Organics also includes fragrances in their various and sundry forms. See

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) acknowledges that fragrance products and pesticides are "Common Indoor Air Pollutants" and have those products listed under "volatile organic compounds." See

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recognizes that fragrances can cause asthma -- it's right there in the same breath as their statement on secondhand tobacco smoke. See Study Finds Strong Evidence That Exposure to Some Indoor Substances Can Lead to or Worsen Asthma. And excerpted from that press release: " ... For biologic or chemical contaminants that could worsen asthma symptoms, limited or suggestive evidence exists regarding exposure to material shed by domestic birds; certain types of pneumonia and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV); secondhand tobacco smoke in older children and adults; formaldehyde fumes from furniture and building materials; and fragrances in personal care and household products. ... "

Soooo, had anyone asked, I'd have said: Let's go for the easy stuff first. Do not add to the pollution levels. The first step would be to ask everyone to use truly fragrance-free products for household and janitorial cleaning and maintenance projects -- let go of the scented detergents for dishes and laundry, the fabric softeners, air "fresheners," pesticides and disinfectants (which are classified as pesticides), rug cleaners, window washing, floor cleaners . . . you name it. There are alternatives which don't pollute so badly. Certainly use fragrance-free personal care products -- such items as soap, shampoo, conditioner and other hair products, lotions, deodorants and aftershave. Leave the perfume and cologne in the bottle. You don't want to toss fragrances down the drain, as the chemicals are not washed out in wastewater treatment and are now found downstream affecting the other creatures with whom we share this planet.

Synthetic fragrance products are volatile organic compounds and contribute to the air pollution. Air "fresheners" do not FRESHEN air, they pollute it. See Air "Fresheners" at

Maybe, it is past time due to begin listening to the millions of people in the USA -- and millions more worldwide -- who have been living with chemical injury. Perhaps it is time to turn away from the words of the chemical industry and its apologists and start realizing that the toxic chemical brews used to create synthetic fragrances (and flavors, as well as fertilizers and pesticides) are indeed capable of causing chemical injury.

The fragrance industry is protected by trade secret laws. Now, trade secret status does not protect the industry from the manufacture and sale of "rip-off" scents. Obviously. However, trade secret status does shield the industry beautifully from an informed consumership, astute doctors, . . . and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).

Furthermore, the fragrance industry is unregulated. There are no protections for the consumer before the marketing of a scent or before a scent is added to a product. The fragrance industry is self-regulated. (That works only for those who believe the fox CAN guard the hen house!) But not only is the industry unregulated, they do not have to report known adverse effects. That is a voluntary procedure. And all of that is topped by the fact that the FDA does not even follow through on its own regulation. There are no labels on fragrances warning that the safety of the product has not been substantiated. See FDA Authority Over Cosmetics at

The Environmental Health Network (EHN) brought a citizens' petitionbefore the FDA in May 1999. The FDA assigned it Docket Number 99P-1340. The petition is still open and accepting documentation and letters. The petition is replete with analyses of six popular scents by one laboratory and an analysis of one of those scents by a second lab. The analysis of the one scent, coupled with a review of MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) strongly indicates that not enough is known about individual chemicals used to create our modern synthetic scents. There has not been adequate testing of the chemicals used in combination -- as when creating a fragrance -- for respiratory effects, nor for neurotoxic, systemic or synergistic effects. (Tens to hundreds of chemicals are used to formulate any one scent, out of the industry's repertoire of 3,000 to 5,000 chemicals.) [June 2003 - Petition 99P-1340 is still open and accepting letters and documentation.]

Strictly by word-of-mouth, that petition has now garnered over 1,000 letters. The fact that the FDA has received so many letters would make it newsworthy IF this were any other topic. The petition is available online from the sites of EHN at and from that of Betty Bridges, RN (she is an advisory board member of EHN), the Fragranced Products Information Network (FPIN) at On EHN's site, the FDA Petition is available at

Fragrances contain known irritants and sensitizers. They also contain known or suspected carcinogens, neurotoxins (affecting the central nervous system) and teratogens (affecting embryonic or fetal development). See Analyses at or from the industry's perspective, you may wish to visit, Perfumers World and their Raw Materials of Perfumery at

Based on the information provided in the FDA Petition, Lynn Lawson (Staying Well in a Toxic World and editor of CanaryNews from 1991 - 2001) brought the subject to the attention of her representative, Jan Schakowsky (D IL). Rep. Schakowsky is a proponent of labeling, and based on what she learned, introduced SNIFF (Safe Notification and Information for Fragrances Act). For more information, see [2003 - Waiting for SNIFF to be re-introduced in the 108th Congress.]

We who are already living with chemical injury have not only been greatly saddened and numbed by the horrific events of September 11, but we have been living with deep concern for the health of all of those who breathed in the dust and smoke. Personally, I found it outrageous that the results of the EPA tests were not couched in terms of using supreme caution. I know one doesn't want to cause panic, but I feel it is irresponsible not to inform. Fully. People have a right to know ... only then can they make informed decisions. And whether their "informed decision" is the thing I'd do to protect myself or not, at least they'd know options and ramifications.

As it is, I have shuddered every time I saw someone ... one of the folks trying to escape, a reporter, a rescue/recovery worker ... without proper protection. Of course those trying to escape would not have respirators with them ... unless they lived in the world as I do ... but too few folks realized they should have covered their mouths and noses with cloth. Even sticking their noses into their shirts or blouses could have helped. And then, I often saw firefighters, police, rescue workers ... without masks, or if they had masks, they wore them hanging on their chests. That is not the way to protect one's respiratory system, one's liver and other vital organs . . . one's brain.Ý (If they felt their breathing was impaired by the respirator, that meant their filter cartridges needed changing.)

A friend has done an awesome job of providing information -- gathered to inform all of the folks who have been affected one way or another by the aftermath of the Twin Towers implosions. Cyndi Norman's work can be viewed from her website Immuneweb. See Cyndi's 9-11: The Toxic Aftermath Facts and Protection for Rescue Workers and Residents at Please visit Cyndi's work ... she includes a question and answer section: Residents of Lower Manhattan - You are being exposed to asbestos and more.

I fervently hope my message has been read with the seriousness with which it was written. We all are stakeholders when it comes to breathing.

Barbara Wilkie

cc: Betty Bridges, RN

Lynn Lawson

Rep. Jan Schackowsky

Cyndi Norman

Rep. Barbara Lee (FYI)

Opinion piece by Barb Wilkie


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The Environmental Health Network (EHN) [of California] is a 501 (c) (3) non profit agency and offers support and information for the chemically injured. Learn from the work of Julia Kendall, get The BEST of the Reactor, join EHN and receive The New Reactor. See what influence the Chemical Manufacturers have had against those of us with EI. The URL for this page is