FAQs

Troubleshooting help

 

Air Purifiers

What's the best air purifier for MCS?

Air purifiers ideal for those with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) have both a HEPA filter to filter out common allergens and particulates, as well as a carbon (or other type of) filter to remove chemicals, gases, VOCs and formaldehyde.

There is no “best” air purifier for people with MCS because everyone is reactive to different things. Some people with MCS have issues with some materials used for filtering in air purifiers, such as carbon, zeolite, or coconut. Some people will react to the fan motor offgassing.

Some companies can send samples of their filter materials before you make a purchase, you’ll need to request this directly. Typically those with MCS will need to run their new machine outside for some hours to offgas it before being able to use it indoors.

Some of the preferred brands by people with MCS include:

• Austin Air Healthmate Plus®
• IQAir New Edition GC Series Air Purifier
• Airpura R600
• Aireox 45B

What do air purifiers filter out?

Depending on the air purifier and which types of filtration materials it contains, it can potentially filter out:

HEPA Filter
Bacteria, viruses, dust mites, mold spores, dander, pollen, smoke and other allergens.

Carbon/Zeolite/Coconut Filter
Chemicals, gases, VOCs, radon, formaldehyde.

If you are purchasing an air purifier that uses negative ions, make sure it does not produce ozone (O3), which is a lung irritant.

Why am I reacting to my air purifier?

Some chemically sensitive people can be reactive to carbon which is the filter material typcially used for chemicals, VOCs, gases, etc.

Carbon can come from different sources, including coconut, so it’s important to know which types of carbon you are reactive to when purchasing an air purifier, and what type of carbon is used in the unit. You can often request sample filter materials from the company before making a purchase.

Even if you are not reactive to carbon specifically, people with chemical sensitivity usually will need to offgas their air purifier by running it outside for several/many hours before using it inside their living environment.

If you still don’t tolerate your air purifier, you might be able to use it to remove noxious odors in your space while you vacate the area, and then air out the space with fresh air afterwards to remove the carbon smell.

Sometimes it’s not the filter materials that one reacts to but can be the fan motor which needs to offgas, or other materials.

What's an air scrubber?

An air scrubber is a high-powered HEPA filtration unit used to clean the air when regular air purifiers are not strong enough for your needs.

They are used commercially to mitigate mold, smoke, asbestos, construction dust, and other particulates, such as allergens like pollen and dust.

An air scrubber recommended by a Planet Thrive member is the ACSI Force Air 2000 EC Air Scrubber. She shared “The only downside to the air scrubber is that the huge HEPA filter is encased in pressboard. I almost sent it back when I saw that but I needed it so badly that I offgassed it out in the sun and ran it when I wasn’t home…I definitely notice a difference when I don’t use it for a day.”

Please note that air scrubbers only filter out particulates and do not filter out chemical vapors.

Chemical Sensitivity

What is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)?

Chemical sensitivity (a.k.a. multiple chemical sensitivity; or environmental illness) is a condition characterized by an acute intolerance to low levels of chemicals, molds, and other substances. Exposure to extremely low levels of an offending substance can cause a wide variety of symptoms, ranging in severity from mild to completely debilitating, and can even be life-threatening. Each sufferer’s triggers and reactions will be unique to their biochemistry and injury, and both their symptom set and reactivity level may change over time (getting better or worse depending on subsequent exposures and treatments, or lack thereof). Chemical sensitivity can affect multiple organ systems and is often progressive if lifestyle changes are not implemented. There have been several reported deaths from this illness.

How do I know if I have MCS?

One way to know if you have MCS is if your doctor diagnoses you with Environmental Illness (EI) or Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS).

Another way you may know that you have MCS is if you suddenly notice you are sensitive to fragrance and you weren’t before. It’s not just an annoyance, but actually causes real physical symptoms in your body that make it difficult to function during your day. You may notice that a perfume allergy has now grown to include natural gas and your new organic cotton bedding. Your life feels more and more unmanageable when you get these exposures that cause cognitive changes, nausea, vibrating sensations throughout your cells, or other symptoms that people with MCS can experience.

If you think you may be developing chemical sensitivity, please seek out an Environmental Medicine or Functional Medicine/Integrative Physician familiar with the condition. Many allopathic doctors consider this illness to be psychosomatic and don’t know how to treat patients displaying these symptoms.

Is MCS a progressive condition -- will I get worse?

MCS is a neurological condition even though reactions to stimuli can affect any organ system (e.g., respiratory, digestive). Typically one has a neurotoxic injury (from mold, chemicals, lyme disease, viruses, etc.) that initiates the condition. Once the brain is in a “sensitized” state, it is easier to become sensitive to other substances. Often what starts as a fragrance allergy can quickly become an intolerance to natural gas/propane, printing inks and other chemicals, foods, the sun, and electromagnetic fields. While some people have a limited sensitivity to one substance, others can become progressively worse until they are what is known as “Universal Reactors”.

Once you have awareness you are chemically sensitive, it is important to identify your current toxic exposures and eliminate them if possible. To lessen the chance of sensitizing to more and more substances, it would be good to eliminate chemicals from one’s diet and lifestyle, and begin a brain retraining program developed specifically for MCS – see limbicretraining.com for more info.

How can I clean fragrance/chemical residues?

To perform a deep cleaning on an indoor space that has fragrance/chemical residues, you will need to HEPA vacuum all surfaces, starting with the ceiling, then going down the walls to the floors. Make sure you have a true HEPA vacuum — Miele is a wonderful brand.

After vacuuming all surfaces carefully, you’ll want to wash down all surfaces (in the same order, from top to bottom) with a tolerated cleansing agent, using a wet rag. Use a fresh side of the rag with each pass, changing rags frequently.

For a more detailed deep cleaning protocol, please contact Healthy Building and Indoor Air Consultant Mary Cordaro. Mary is not affiliated with Planet Thrive but has many years experience with MCS clients.

Is it possible to heal from MCS?

Yes, it is possible to heal from chemical sensitivity – and, even when total remission is not possible, there is a very wide range of improvements that ARE possible. Thousands of people have healed their chemical (and other) sensitivities using brain retraining programs focused on resetting limbic system function after a neurotoxic injury. These programs (like Annie Hopper’s Dynamic Neural Retraining System™ and the Gupta Brain Retraining Program) are described in more depth on our sister website: limbicretraining.com.

Brain retraining programs are just one way people have healed over the years. Others have found improvements through abstinence from chemical products and moldy living + work environments alone. Others have revamped their diet and lifetsyle and found their sensitivities went away or lessened greatly over time. Others have worked with functional medicine physicians, herbalists, and alternative practitioners to heal their lyme disease, address viral load, detoxify their system from mold and chemicals, and overall support their health. Others have turned to nature and camped in a tent for years, grounded barefoot on the earth, and swam in natural bodies of water to find healing and a return to homeostasis. And still others have found healing after devoting themselves to a spiritual practice. The important thing is not to give up hope – there is a way for everyone to access healing no matter your physical, emotional and financial ability, or your belief system!

Creating a
Safe Room

What is a Safe Room?

A Safe Room is a room that has no environmental triggers for the occupant. It is typically made of inert materials or sealed in some way to prevent offgassing of chemicals and odors. It allows the occupant to get restful sleep and to be comfortable while in the space.

How do I create one in a toxic home?

In order to create a “safe room” in a home you are not currently tolerating, you’ll need to designate one room for this purpose. This room will have to be sealed off from the rest of the house and you’ll spend most of your time in this room.

Ideally, you’ll have access to a bathroom and kitchen or kitchenette area (or have family or friends that cook for you) that are also tolerable to you.

You can use materials like Tu Tuff and aluminum tape to seal materlas that you are reacting to. The room should contain metal, glass or off-gassed plastic/wood furniture that you know you tolerate.

Please search our forum for details on materials others have used to create safe spaces in their homes.

Can I heal in a Safe Room if my house is toxic?

If your room is truly safe, you should be able to heal while living there. The exception might be if you have an active black mold infestation. Then it is important to vacate the home.

Some of our members healed using brain retraining while living in apartments with shared walls where their neighbors’ toxic chemicals and air fresheners were invading their space. They used it as an “opportunity” to brain retrain and turned it into an advantage. in that sense, In many cases, that would be difficult and each situation must be evaluated on its own.

Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs)

What are EMFs?

EMFs stand for electromagnetic fields.

What are symptoms of electromagnetic sensitivity?

Symptoms of electromagnetic hypersensitivity can include:

ª flushed or burning face;
• brain fog;
• tingling in the body;
• a feeling of tightness in the nervous system;
• rage/emotional outbursts;
• a migraine headache;
• insomnia.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe and even ilfe-threatening.

How can I reduce EMFs in my home?

Some ways you can reduce EMFs in your home are:

• Use hardwired ethernet rather than WiFi for your internet connection;
• Use a landline phone instead of a cell phone;
• Avoid cordless phones;
• Use battery operated clocks in your bedroom rather than electric;
• Turn off your breaker when you sleep;
• Unplug appliances when not in use;
• Avoid charging a cell phone while you sleep;
• Replace a smart meter on your electric utility with an analog meter;
• Use a Somavedic device in your home.

Finances

How do I know if I qualify for SSDI benefits?

To qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, you must first have worked in jobs covered by Social Security. Then you must have a medical condition that meets Social Security’s definition of disability.

Click here to find a listing of impairments for adults above the age of 18. For all of your impairments, you can go through and see if you meet the criteria for disability.

Do I need a lawyer to apply for SSDI?

You don’t need a lawyer, but we definitely recommend using one. SSDI lawyers typically will take your case without payment and they will deduct their fee once you are awarded any backpay. SSDI lawyers and nonattorney advocates are limited by law as to how much money they can make, and the maximum they can charge is 25% of your backpay for his or her services, up to a maximum of $6,000.

I used Binder and Binder for my SSDI case. Others have successfully used other firms.

What's a good approach for applying for SSDI?

The best approach for applying for SSDI is to hire an SSDI lawyer. Do not depend on them to make your case for you. Do as much of the “legwork” as possible yourself. This includes:

1) Making a list of your impairments and the criteria you need to meet to be considered disabled;

2) Providing acceptable medical evidence (test results, doctor’s notes, etc.) to prove each of your impairments exists, its severity, and how it affects your day-to-day functioning.

3) Provide a daily activity schedule showing how you spend your time each day and how your impairments affect what you can accomplish;

4) Provide a list of any medications you take (or if you cannot take medications, provide medical evidence why, such as a liver detoxification test showing impaired detoxification abilities), and any treatments you must do to manage your symptoms;

5) A personal recap of how you became impaired and how this has affected you physically, emotionally, mentally, cognitively, financially, socially and any other way;

6) Letters from physicians (MDs), physician assistants (PAs), psychiatrists, psychologists, physical therapists, family members, friends, bosses (can include a past job review), that affirm the existence and severity of your impairments and how they have affected your life and relationships.

How long will it take to get approved for SSDI?

Once you apply, typically you will get rejected and have to appeal the decision. Don’t be discouraged by this, it seems to be their mode of operandi. Once you appeal your case, it can take up to two years to be approved. At that point, you should receive a nice big check for backpay, minus your lawyers’ fee.

If you do not get approved for SSDI, you can appeal again, which will take even longer.

Food

Why am I reacting to foods all of a sudden?

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What diet should I follow?

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What is Viome?

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How can I improve my digestion?

Generally, you can improve your digestion by:

  • Removing potentially reactive foods from your diet (e.g. sugar, wheat/gluten, grains, lectins, dairy, etc.);
  • Adding well-tolerated nutrient dense foods to your diet (fresh juices, sprouts, bone broths, wild foods, etc.);
  • Chewing your food well;
  • Testing for any underlying intestinal infections or imbalances;
  • Ingesting food based and supplemental prebiotics and probiotics;
  • Eating gut-healing nutrients like l-glutamine, butyrate, collagen and gelatin;
  • Working with a qualified digestive specialist – I’ve had success with the naturopaths in Mary Pardee’s practice. They are located in California but offer online telemed consults.

Housing

I'm reacting to my home. What should I do?

tbd

What's the best place to live if you have MCS?

Simply said, the best place for someone with MCS to live is a place:

• With minimal/no environmental triggers;
• With available, affordable and tolerable housing options;
• Close to needed services such as organic shopping and healthcare.

Since everyone with MCS has different triggers, there is no one-size-fits-all, however the southwest has been a healing area for many with environmental illness due to the arid climate and year-round sunshine. There are several towns in New Mexico and Arizona where those with environmental illness have settled — Santa Fe, NM and Snowflake, AZ being two.

It’s important to figure out what your personal parameters are — do you do well at high elevations? Can you tolerate a humid environment like that of Florida or do you do better in an arid climate? Can you tolerate the flora varieties in the area you want to move to? There are many issues to consider, including social support, which makes choosing a location a challenge for many.

How can I find MCS-safe housing?

The best MCS-Safe Housing Resources we are aware of include:

  • The upcoming Safer Housing site we are developing – with an estimated launch date of early September, stay tuned for updates.
  • EI Safe Housing Facebook group with over 3.5K members
  • Environmental Health Bulletin (EHB) – Send an email to phxhealchapter@msn.com to subscribe to the newsletter. They currently offer two versions of the newsletter: a detailed version and a condensed version (helpful for printing). Specify which version you would like to receive when you subscribe.
  • MCS Friends housing listings
Can someone with MCS live in a newly constructed home?

New construction will have a lot of offgassing materials that can be highly toxic to someone with MCS. It is not recommended.

Is a "green" home MCS-safe?

Green, or environmentally friendly, homes are not necessarily MCS-safe. For starters, they are talking about materials that are sustainable for the Earth, but not necessarily inert/non-toxic. Recycled tires are used in some green building processes, but probably would not be a good choice for someone with MCS who might react to the rubber off-gassing for years — same with recycled plastics and engineered wood. The best way to see if a home is MCS-safe for the occupant is to have them spend time in the home and see how they feel. It’s impossible to tell from a description on a website.

Mold

How can I test my house for mold?

We recommend using the ERMI test provided by Mycometrics to test for mold in your home, vehicle or workplace. The test costs $285.

ERMI is Environmental Relative Moldiness index and it was developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development (ORD). ERMI uses the analysis of settled dust in homes and buildings to determine the molds’ situation. The methodology is based on using a mold-specific quantitative polymerase chain reaction (MSQPCR) to quantify 36 molds and calculate an index number for comparison with a database of reference homes.

The standard turn-around-time is 5-7 business days upon receipt of the sample. They will send you a PDF file of your results via email. The testing process can be sped up with expedited services at a surcharge of the total testing price.

Please note: For the most accurate results, you will need to clean your home and then wait five full weeks before taking a sample for the test. See below for details.

Another option for testing is to use Mycometrics. This test uses petri dishes and you don’t have to do any prep work prior to the test; just leave the petri dishes in the areas you want to test for a full hour.

How should I clean my home before doing the ERMI test?

Mold consultant Mike Schrantz recommends cleaning the environment to be tested as follows before doing the ERMI Mycometrics mold test:

Clean the interior ceiling, walls, door frames, counter tops, furniture and floor (in that order) with unscented Swiffer Dry Cloths until all surfaces appear to be free of dust and dirt. For floors, use an unscented Swiffer Dry Cloth with a Swiffer Sweeper.

NOTE: Any rough surfaces (like concrete walls) that can’t be easily cleaned with a Swiffer Dry Cloth should be vacuumed using a true HEPA vacuum. Veteran Mold Consultant John C. Banta highly recommends the Shark Rotator Lift Away with Complete Seal Technology vacuum cleaner.

After the interior space is cleaned as described above, don’t clean any of the above areas for five full weeks. (It’s okay to clean a few areas that get dirty with regular use like kitchen/bathroom counters, toilets and any spills. Sweeping is okay, in high-traffic areas only.)

After five full weeks, take dust samples per the instructions in the Mycometrics ERMI AccuCloth kit.

How can I test my body for mold toxins?

In the book TOXIC: Heal Your Body from Mold Toxicity, Lyme Disease, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, and Chronic Environmental Illness by Neil Nathan, MD, he recommends getting the following two tests done:

Mycotoxin Urine Test by RealTime Labs This test is typically covered by Medicare if your Medicare-approved doctor orders it. Cost: $699 for 1st test, $299 for follow-ups.

MycoTOX Profile (Mold Exposure) by The Great Plains Laboratory, Inc.  Medicare does not cover this test. Cost: $299 if your doctor orders it. You can also order through My Labs for Life (Cost: $325) or MyMedLab (Cost: $325).

Dr. Nathan says the two labs use different testing methodologies and you will get a better overall picture of your mold toxicity by taking both of them. You can just take the RealTime Labs test if you can’t afford to do both.

Optional: In order to increase the excretion of mycotoxins from the adipose tissue to get the most accurate results for your tests, it is recommended you fast for 12 hours prior to collecting your urine samples. Dr. Nathan also suggests you take a sauna or hot bath the night before before you collect your urine.

If you can also take 500mg of glutathione (suggested brand – Researched Nutritionals) twice a day for a week before you collect your specimen, that will give even more accurate results. If you cannot tolerate taking oral glutathione at that dose for that long, you can also consider getting a glutathione push/IV the day before you collect your urine sample. If you have a known large exposure to heavy metals, you may want to skip the glutathione, as it can mobilize heavy metals and cause distressing symptoms.

Important: If you are taking any mold toxin binders such as cholestyramine, activated charcoal or bentonite clay, please stop taking them for three full days before collecting your urine sample.

The Great Plains test takes about three weeks to get the results, and the RealTime Labs test takes about ten days.

Which mold toxin binders should I use?

Mold toxin binders attach to the mycotoxins in your body and pull them out. By doing one or both of the suggested mycotoxin tests, you can find out which molds are present in your body, and then choose the mold toxin binders that bind best to those particular mycotoxins.

As noted in the book TOXIC: Heal Your Body from Mold Toxicity, Lyme Disease, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, and Chronic Environmental Illness by Neil Nathan, MD:

Ochratoxins seem to be bound best by cholestyramine, Welchol, and activated charcoal.

Aflatoxins are best removed using activated charcoal and bentonite clay.

Trichothecenes are best bound by activated charcoal, and possibly, chlorella and bentonite clay (there are limited studies on these two).

Gliotoxins are bound by bentonite clay, Saccharomyces boulardii, and N-aceytl cysteine (NAC).

What dosages should I take?

Cholestyramine 1/16 teaspoon of powder once every other day to 4 scoops daily. (If you are sensitive, you’ll want to order pure cholestyramine from a compounding pharmacy rather than get the generic formula which has fillers you may not tolerate.)

Activated Charcoal A portion of a capsule (500 milligrams) once daily to 3 capsules a day.

Bentonite Clay 1/16 teaspoon of liquid to 3 capsules once daily.

OptiFiber Lean 1/4 scoop mixed in water once daily to 1 scoop 3x day. (This binder seems to help with all mycotoxins, and has been well tolerated by Dr. Nathan’s more sensitive patients. He credits Jill Carnahan, MD for this suggestion.)

The above is taken from the book TOXIC: Heal Your Body from Mold Toxicity, Lyme Disease, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, and Chronic Environmental Illness by Neil Nathan, MD. Please see page 73 for full dosage and timing information and a more complete list of mold toxin binders.

My home is moldy, what should I do?

It’s very difficult to properly remediate a toxic mold infestation. My understanding is that you cannot truly “kill” mold. Mold has an innate survival mechanism, and when you use something like bleach or hydrogen peroxide on visible mold, it can “spore out” and send millions of tiny mold spores into the surrounding area in an effort to stay alive, making things far worse.

If the mold is contained to a specific area, a qualified mold remediation company may be able to remove all affected construction materials while protecting the rest of the space from mold spores.

But usually, if you are sick from mold illness it is best to relocate to a mold-free environment rather than attempt to remediate a space.

You’ll want to get rid of as many personal belongings as possible that have been exposed to the mold. Things made of stainless steel and glass that can be cleaned are more salvageable than things made of fiber (like clothing and bedding) or paper. If you absolutely must save certain papers and clothing, we recommend putting them in sealed plastic bins and place them in storage until you are in better health to deal with it all.

What areas in the US are best to live?

When you are sick from mold illness, an arid climate is best while recovering. Many people do best in the Southwest.

Arizona is a top location because it’s very dry – some favorite towns to check out include Benson, Bisbee, Chino Valley, Flagstaff, Patagonia, Phoenix, Prescott, Sedona, Snowflake, Tubac, and Tucson. But just because it’s arid in Arizona, does not mean there is no mold in housing. Mold can grow wherever there is water, food (cellulose), and darkness. An unknown pipe leak behind a wall is the perfect source for mold. Some say mold in housing is worse in Arizona because people are in denial about it. I have found that to be the case. The key is to be diligent about drying out any water leaks and to be aware of the potential for mold growth.

New Mexico is also great, but some areas get more rain and native architecture tends to feature flat adobe roofs that don’t drain well so mold can be more of an issue with housing. Some preferred towns include: Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Silver City, and Taos.

Areas that are more difficult if you are recovering from mold illness are the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast. Oregon and Washington get a lot of rainfall so there can be higher levels of mold in the environment, as well as housing. Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and other Southeastern states can be quite humid and therefore, there are higher levels of mold in the outdoor air, as well as in housing.

As an example, after my toxic mold exposure I moved to South Florida. While there, I had to use my oxygen tank almost every other day. When I moved to Snowflake, Arizona, I never used my oxygen tank again and my lungs healed over time so I was able to be exposed to controlled burn smoke without getting extremely reactive/ill/out of breath.

Pesticides

How do pesticides damage us?

The late Dr. William Rea, former director of the Environmental Health Center – Dallas (EHCD), shared in his former Planet Thrive column:

“Pesticides can affect almost every aspect of the body. They can affect nerve transmission due to their effect on the acetylcholine esterase enzyme. Organ function, including lung, brain, kidney liver, heart, can affect blood vessel inflammation, and the functioning of the central and peripheral nervous system. In addition some can be stored in organs and fatty tissue.

Organophosphates (Dursban, Malathion, Diazinon, and carbamates like Sevin) affect nerve transmission and can be central nervous system depressants affecting heart and respiration rate. These pesticides can be absorbed by inhalation, ingestion and skin penetration.

Organochlorides can be tumor causing and can be stored in organs and fatty tissue. These pesticides can be excreted in mother’s milk. They also affect steroid hormones and stimulate biotransformation of therapeutic medications, necessitating reevaluation of required dosages. The chief toxic action of this classification of pesticides is on the nervous system sometimes causing convulsions and seizures. Coordination and mental functioning can be affected by these pesticides.

Others such as permethrins can sensitize the person exposed and can cause respiratory and skin irritation. These pesticides can be found in food and can enter the body through ingestion as well as inhalation.

Chlorophenoxy herbicides or weed control products can are irritating to eyes, skin, gastrointestinal tract, and respiratory tract. Large exposures or chronic repeated exposures to these compounds can affect heart rhythm, muscle tone and weakness and create kidney problems and led to vomiting and diarrhea.

Use of any of these organophosphates, carbamates and herbicides can be hazardous to health. When combined with petroleum distillates in application, their toxicity is increased. Less toxic alternatives are available. Food and water sources need to be chosen with care, and organic products should be the choice to ensure cellular protection.”

What are the symptoms of pesticide exposure?

The symptoms of pesticide poisoning are far ranging. Some people have experienced dizziness and vertigo after a pesticide exposure, or severe cognitive distress/brain fog. Others have experienced symptoms such as muscle weakness, heart disturbances and even convulsions and seizures.

How can I protect myself from exposure?

If you have advance warning of a pesticide exposure from a neighbor or business, you can plan to stay inside your home with all the windows closed and tightly sealed for 24 hours to avoid inhalation and skin exposure.

Are natural pesticides safe?

Many organic pesticides are less toxic than synthetic ones, but that doesn’t mean they are safe or won’t cause environmental harm. Similar to synthetic pesticides, organic pesticides are formulated to kill living beings. Even if the active ingredients come from a natural source, they are at much higher concentrations than found in nature. As we all know, just because something is “natural” or found in nature, does not mean it is not poisonous to humans and other living beings.

Still need help?

Please ask on our members forum, or search the forum database. It’s packed with invaluable member experiences with a wide variety of issues affecting those with environmentally based illnesses.

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