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Year-end Story Time: A Family Visit
AKA: The Fabric Softener Story

Story appearing in The New Reactor,Vol 9, No. 6: Nov-Dec. 1999.

Once upon a time, oh, say mid-December 1992, my mother-in-law had fallen into her bathtub as a result of a fainting spell. In the tumble, she broke her left leg just below the knee. Six hours later, we arrived and then called upon the excellent service of San Francisco's paramedics. She was, as she referred to herself, "A tough old bird."

Our son changed his family's vacation plans and came to visit us a few days ahead of schedule to spend more time with his grandmother. His wife and children first visited her family in southern California, then joined us. They were still using their clothes from home when the whole family got together here.

We all visited great-grandma, then enjoyed a trip to Pt. Reyes -- all in one car. Thule Elk ( were there to be admired. The air was clear. Life was good.

The next morning I was suddenly made ill on the second floor by something wafting upstairs from the living room. I knew not what the cause, but I did know I had to vacate the house immediately.

I "flew" down the stairs and outside as fast as I could. Our grandson was 2.5 years at the time and saw an opportunity to get out of the house, onto the front porch with me -- he eagerly joined me.

I'm afraid my shock and dismay outweighed my grandmotherly spirit for I quite shouted: JORDAN, YOU'RE OUTGASSING!

His big brown eyes welled up. His lower lip quivered. Two big tears dropped onto his cheeks and ran down his face to drop onto his shirt. With the saddest face you'd ever want to see, he said, "My mommy doesn't say THAT to me!"

He ran inside throwing his little face into his mother's thighs. He wrapped his arms tightly about her and sobbed, "Grandma said I was OUTGASSING!" Jane with a bemused look, then with grin, asked, "Barb, WHAT is going on?"

Funny. Sad. Life! Life with MCS.

Jane's family had washed their clothes for them, using highly scented detergent and fabric softener. When they opened their suitcases in the living room and began dressing, the chemical fumes wafted upstairs and got me. But good.

It turns out that Adrien had started coughing as they were getting dressed. Jordan was saying, "Oh, my shirt smells so good!" He could have been in a fabric softener commercial.

Tom washed the clothes repeatedly with Borax. His final touch was to throw vinegar into the rinse. The clothes came out fine and could be dried in my dryer. And I was then able to enjoy the family visit.

P.S. My grandson still loves me.

-- barb

For more information about fabric softeners, please visit the work of Julia Kendall (whom we lost July 12, 1997)


Follow-up 7/2000: The children now come to us with their clothes in need of washing to spare us all the highly scented detergents and fabric softeners used by the other grandparents. And these days, both children have respiratory and headache reactions to fragrances. Neither child lived on her/his allergy medicines while visiting us, as they had to while visiting the other grandparents.

All anecdotal.

All true.

The already chemically injured people are walking, talking HUMAN OBSERVATION STUDIES. Why are our cases ignored? Pretty soon the cost of ignoring us will far outweigh the market value of the products that make us sick . . . sort of like killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Hmmmmm, I wonder if the industry thinks of the consumer as a goose?

Goose as defined by American Heritage Dictionary:

    2. Informal. A silly person.

    How silly are we to listen to industry advertising hype and public relations campaigns?
    If you were allowed to know of all the chemicals used to concoct your favorite scents,
    AND their adverse effects upon your health, the health of your children -- future and
    those you now have, the health of untold others who come in contact with your noxious
    vapor trail, and the health of our wildlife: Would you still purchase products marketed
    without being proven safe for inhalation and absorption?

    Until industry is regulated and we see all of that "sound science" proving that fragrances
    are safe, we are having a religious experience of blind faith that these products are
    safe as claimed by the self-regulated industry.

    I'd like to see some of that "sound science" the industry claims it needs before it can
    understand that millions are now disabled and some have prematurely died as a result
    of their products. (I know of one obit of death by perfume. I know of other deaths
    resulting from perfume huffing. And still other deaths that have been labeled ASTHMA .
    . . but no one asked what caused, triggered or exacerbated the asthma that was listed
    as the cause of death. And then, I wonder about death by cancer, death by stroke, ... ?)

    Why doesn't the industry come forth with its SOUND SCIENCE? My guess is that any
    sound science it has will prove that fragrances are respiratory irritants at best. I wonder
    about my other queries: Do we have cancers because of the carcinogenic chemicals
    and the chemicals that make others carcinogenic? Do we have reproductive problems
    because men and women are inhaling and absorbing hormone disrupters? Do we
    have fetal development problems because of the teratogens that are in fragrances and
    are absorbed and inhaled by the mother's body? Do we have hyperactive children and
    addults because of the neurotoxins in fragrances? Etc. Ad nauseam.

    Where is all of that sound science? If the industry had it and it proved their products
    were safe for users and non-users, you can bet your bottom dollar that it would have
    been published long ago. In the meantime, each of us is a silly goose for taking
    these chemicals into our lives and the lives of our progeny without question.

For another story on the topic of fabric softeners, please visit
It's Personal! -- A conversation with an air quality district's representative at Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) regarding fabric softeners on the ambient air

Neighborhood air pollution from laundry products?
I see fabric softeners as STATIONARY SOURCE POLLUTERS. My wish is that the
San Francisco Bay Area's BAAQMD investigated them as such.

An educated public could reduce air pollution considerably. In Southern California, air
pollution from commonly used consumer products -- including those used for personal
care -- create pollution second only to vehicle exhaust. Thats tons of pollutants, folks,
that each and everyone of us CAN do something about. It starts with you and me
making wiser purchases!

Los Angeles Times, front page
Chemicals in Home a Big Smog Source
Cleansers, cosmetics and other products pump 100 tons of pollutants daily into the
Southland's air, ranking second to tailpipe emissions, studies show.

By Gary Polakovic; Times Staff Writer; March 9, 2003
Available now through Mindfully:


EcoLiving Center:

-- barb

Support EHN's Citizens' Petition brought before the FDA May 11, 1999.

The still-current petition requests that the FDA follow its regulations already on their books and require warning labels on synthetic fragrances released to market without adequate testing. See the chemicals found via analysis with your very own eyes.

    Tell the FDA about your adverse reactions to synthetic fragrances. OR, tell the FDA that even though you haven't suffered adverse reactions that you've attributed to synthetic fragrances, you feel the public has a right to know about the chemials they are daily putting onto and into their bodies and the bodies of their children and grandchildren. Chemicals which also release into the air and which in turn can adversely affect the health of others -- including those whose astute doctors advise: Avoid fragrances.
    Reference "Docket Number 99P-1340/CP 1"

For excellent information on health effects of fragrances, visit the Fragranced Products Information Network:

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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. In this section, EHN brings you a few stories that appeared in past issues of The New Reactor EHN's HomePage is