Book Review: The Sensitives – The rise of environmental illness and the search for America’s last pure place

January 7, 2023

The Sensitives – The rise of environmental illness and the search for America’s last pure place by Oliver Broudy

Environmental illness (E.I), an umbrella term for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance, Total Allergy syndrome and Electro Hypersensitivity Syndrome has been recognised for well over a half a century yet sufferers can still find themselves labelled in mainstream medical and media circles as hypochondriacs best treated by psychiatric methods.

These attitudes maybe due partly to;

  • A deficit of diagnostic biomarkers for E.I. 
  • An incomprehension by many, including health professionals of how severely sensitive and incapacitated some EI suffers become.  
  • Societies ‘Human Rights’ and ‘Public Health’ obligations along with E.I’s commercial and financial ramifications contributing to a political hesitancy to acknowledge and accommodate E.I affected citizens in our communities. 

While E.I remains conveniently ignored its causal toxicants – increasing levels of industrial chemicals and wireless radiation flooding the environment and saturating our homes, workplaces and cities mean escalating and arguably avoidable numbers of people continue to succumb to E.I.

Into this contentious arena gifted writer and journalist, Oliver Broudy steps with his extensively researched book – The Sensitives. It is an engrossing, environmental ‘whatdunnit’, with a grim ‘Cassandra’ toned message that we are invited to heed.

From the opening chapter we accompany Broudy on a quintessential American road trip across a number of U.S states. Along for the ride is Broudy’s travelling companion, James – an E.I sufferer.

Both are on a quest to find fellow E.I sufferer, Brian, who has ‘gone bush’ or rather in this case ‘desert’.

At the outset Broudy, is in two minds about the validity of EI – is it mass hysteria or a legit disease? By their journey’s end Broudy, much like anyone I imagine who reads this book will be reassessing their use of many common household products, building materials and wireless technologies that are an unquestioning part of our lives.

As the kilometres on the road clock up we learn about James varied and exhaustive attempts to recover from E.I.  Along with James and Brian, we are introduced to a number of people affected by EI, each with harrowing and heart breaking stories involving loss of place and livelihood, broken marriages, separated families – a uniquely lonely and cruel form of homelessness. These exiles can no longer tolerate common day chemicals and wireless radiation whose use is ubiquitous in our communities. They are modern days lepers in need of an E.I colony or whitezone – like Snowflake, Arizona, a place of refuge for the E.I inhabitants Broudy meets there. Interspersed with their personal accounts of E.I Broudy also provides a fascinating overview of the history and science of environmental medicine, its founders – giants in the field of environmental medicine such as the late Theron Randolph (d. 1995), Dr. William Rea (d. 2018) and allergist & immunologist, Claudia Miller who back in 1996 theorised ‘toxicant induced loss of tolerance’ as one possible mechanism of EI disease. Most specialists working in EI treatment agree there is currently no cure, only management. What makes one susceptible to developing this condition is still not fully understood- genetics, occupational exposures and triggers like Lyme or other types of bacterial or viral infection are thought possible. A commonality amongst the sufferers Broudy encounters is their severe intolerance to industrial chemicals, heavy metals and wireless electromagnetic radiation that make them sick to the point they are forced to live in isolation.

Another plausible theory for E.I. is explained by Dr. Michael Gray who Broudy tracks down in his practice in Benson, Arizona.

Gray’s theory hinges on the fact “most advanced organisms living on the planet today – plants, animals, probably most of the fungi…have the ability to make eighteen thousand different cytochrome p450 enzymes, which are the repository of the detoxification array. And that really represents the pool of most of the natural poisons that exist on the planet…. (E.I) It’s a genetically based illness in a social environment in which human beings have made a lot of bad decisions…The problem, Gray said, was that human activity had enlarged the poison pool by orders of magnitude. Plus, we’d amplified the mutagenic load by orders of magnitude – meaning we’d increased the amount of stuff (mostly chemicals) that threatened the stability of our DNA, and thus our ability to manufacture the enzymes necessary to eliminate toxins – our “detox array.”… “It has been estimated 24-28 percent of the population was missing significant elements of the detox array. The elements they were missing determined which toxins they were unable to clear. And the toxins they were unable to clear determined which systems were impacted. Organophosphates, for instance, impaired the autonomic nervous system, Toxic mould impaired protein synthesis and mitochondrial function. Estrogenics like dioxin and BPA impaired the endocrine system. All of them could fire up the immune system and fired up is how it remained since the triggering irritant couldn’t be cleared.” pg. 183 -184

Broudy’s book leaves one asking how such a miscarriage of medical and social care is still possible given it is well over half a century since Dr. Theron Randolph first began treating E.I patients with  chemical sensitivities? No one is born with E.I. Maybe genetics load the gun but harmful toxicants in our environment pull the trigger.  Broudy’s cautionary tale is a call to avoid the use of unnecessary environmental toxicants like pesticides and herbicides – go organic and avoid wireless technologies. Opt instead for safer EMR technologies using cabled internet access.

Four copies available in Canterbury Public Library

Reviewed by Anne Gastinger

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