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The ‘San Antonio Seven’ still sidelined by illness years after chemical and mold exposures

Photo: Greg Harman, License: N/A

Greg Harman

Olivia Cornyn still suffers from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity 18 years after leaving work at the reservations center of Southwest Airlines.

She rattled off a few.


Building materials.

Pesticide producers.


New carpets and cleaning products.

“There’s an overwhelming number of people who are scared to death,” she said. “They’re scared to death of the liability.”

Doctor Miller knows what needs to be done to be able to properly study TILT and begin working on recovery for sufferers. And though she has been called to testify before Congress several times on the disorder and chaired two panels for the National Institutes of Health on the topic, she has yet to receive funds to build a toxics-free center such as one that has been built in Japan.

“Our government is not doing it for us. So everyone is kind of on their own. It’s sort of buyer beware,” Miller said. “You have to learn a lot about what products are safer in terms of how you decorate your home, or the new home you buy, or remodeling, the bottles you buy for your kids. Who can read that stuff? What consumer can read all that stuff? And yet we think those very low-level exposures are contributing to the overall Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance.”

But what Arnold Mann hopes to drive home for readers of his book “They’re Poisoning Us!” is that the more than 40 million MCS/TILT sufferers in the U.S. are not all environmental hermits hiding behind masks in remote desert outposts. They are here among us, doing the best they can.

“There’s maybe 1 percent who have to live in the middle of nowhere,” Mann said. “The other 99 percent, they’re like you and me. They have to pick their way through the chemical world. You have to figure out what you react to. There are ways of doing that.”

Getting educated about what triggers reactions is an important step. But since there is no known cure, more important is recognizing the early signs of environmental sensitivity to prevent disability in the first place. “Right now the vast majority have not found a way to recover. What helps the most is getting them away from exposures that trigger symptoms,” said Miller. “More importantly, when you see something evolving, when you see people start to complain of illness, don’t ignore it. Look at the building, bring in industrial hygienists. Don’t do it after people become ill, because once they develop these multiple intolerances it’s hard to back up the process. You can’t go back. It’s like Humpty Dumpty. You can’t put them back together again.” •

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