Before Sept. 20, 2016, I would have never dreamed of scratching my a — , er, butt cheek in public. Now that’s all I want to do when I’m at work. Usually I’ll start to feel the pin pricks when I’m standing behind the beverage cart in the aisle. They make me want to scratch my boob and my leg and my head — all at the same time! — while serving drinks. Sometimes I want to rip my face off.
Before Sept. 20, 2016, I had no idea what “synergy” and “chemical sensitivity” meant, and never in a million years would I have used the term “toxic threshold.” In fact, if I had heard someone say that, I probably would have rolled my eyes and laughed. Now I pepper almost all my conversations with these words. I feel like I’m well on my way to becoming a chemist.
Before Sept. 20, 2016, if anyone had told me I’d form a strong bond with thousands flight attendants over a topic I never had an interest in before, toxic chemicals, I would have said they were crazy. Now I’m in contact with these flight attendants multiple times a day. I talk to them more than I talk to my mother!
Before Sept. 20, 2016, my TSH (thyroid) was stable, I didn’t have respiratory issues, and my heart never raced at work. In other words I rarely ever saw my doctor. Now I have his personal cell phone number and we text each other all the time about my “reactions” to the toxic chemicals in flight attendants’ uniforms. After I work a string of days in a row, I make an appointment so he can run a few tests.
Before Sept. 20, 2016, I couldn’t wait to wear the new American Airlines uniform. Now that uniform is in a garbage bag that’s in a tub that’s in the basement of the apartment building where I stay in New York. It’s marked evidence. I wear a fake uniform to work. I wonder if Calvin Klein has figured out why its charcoal gray suit is so popular all of a sudden.
Needless to say, my life has changed a lot over the last few months. I spend hours researching chemicals I’d never heard of before in an effort to understand what is happening to me and why I’ve become sensitive to chemicals that never bothered me before in my everyday life. That’s how I stumbled across an article about Dr. William J. Rea, a thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon with a strong passion for the environmental aspects of health and disease.
Dr. Rea is the founder of the Environmental Health Center in Dallas. I reached out to him and he agreed to answer a few questions.
1. What toxic chemicals are common in clothing? Formaldehyde, dyes, phenols, pesticides.
2. Is there any way to rid fabric of harmful dangerous chemicals like formaldehyde and pesticides? Wash them six times.
3. Most of us washed our uniforms a million times to get rid of the chemicals but that didn’t work. We even soaked them in vinegar. Nothing worked. Besides washing new clothing, are there any suggestions on how to insure we aren’t being poisoned? What you did is the only way I know of.
4. Are there supplements or medications that can assist in removal of the toxins in our bodies? Anything to improve our immune systems? Vitamin C, glutathione, B-complex, multi-minerals.
5. What are the possible long-term effects these chemicals will have on our bodies? Chemical sensitivity, cancer, atherosclerosis, degenerative nerve disease.
6. In the last few months I’ve learned a lot about things I never knew before. Take “synergism,” for example. Maybe the chemicals in my shirt test safe and the chemicals in my pants test safe but mix them together and…are they still safe? Synergism occurs and may not be safe.
7. For those of us who do not have noticeable reactions, can there be unseen reactions for the long term? Yes.
8. Why do some people not have noticeable reactions while others have severe ones? Enzyme or nutrient or genetic deficiency.
9. Many flight attendants no longer wearing the new uniform are getting rashes on their chest and shoulders where the jump-seat harnesses touch them, which leads us to believe cross contamination is happening. Correct.How long do toxins stay on items i.e.: jump-seat harnesses, sofas, car seats, airline seats, etc. I have no idea.
10. It seems like once you have a reaction, it only gets worse. What I mean is you don’t get to have the same reaction each time you’re exposed to a toxic chemical. It gets worse as you absorb more chemicals. Is there a way to detox and start over? Sauna, nutrients, possibly desensitization.
11. Does heat or moisture affect toxicity? Yes. Does it lead to a person absorbing more chemicals. Usually.
12. How much do you think clothing could play a role in what people assume are seasonal allergy symptoms? A lot.
13. I’ve heard that dangerous chemicals can even be in clothes labeled “Organic”. Yes, that is true. Lighter colors are better.
14. Flight attendants at American have learned that having a chemcial reaction to clothing doesn’t necessarily prove legally that clothes are “unsafe.” If a chemical reaction doesn’t prove it, is there anything that can? Probably intradermal skin tests.
15. What is it going to take to establish a link between clothing and chemical reactions? Make and test allergy extracts.
16. Who exactly decides what is an acceptable level of a chemical in clothing? FDA.
17. What do you recommend we do to convince the company to recall the uniforms. What tests and diagnoses from medical doctors will convince the company that our chemical reactive symptoms are from the uniforms. Protest.
Yeah, that's me, the one standing in the aisle wearing flammable polyester...