South Beach Island Resort

environmentally friendly housing partnership

Melbourne Beach, FL - (321) 409-8233

Reserve / View Availability

A silent assault: Could your home or workplace be making you sick

By Raina Morgan
Wednesday, November 7, 2001

Robert Damiano was a vital thirty-something young man who grasped the world in his hands.He and some friends had just purchased a thirty-two unit complex in Chelsea and as a a general contractor he had formed his own successful restoration and renovation company as well as owned and operated several antique shops. A Judo Champion by the age of 17, he was healthy, nutritionally conscious, and heavily involved in sports and life.

Then in 1986, Robert’s health began to decline into a slow motion free fall. It started with chronic fatigue and headaches and by 1988 had spiraled into symptoms so severe he couldn’t even be in the same room with a newspaper. Like the boy in the bubble, he seemed to be allergic to the environment surrounding him. Isolated, sick and receding further away from the world he once griped so firmly in his hands, Robert had to liquidate his antique business and focus on his health. He traveled across the United States, Canada and Mexico in his quest to heal himself.

Robert had developed an emerging syndrome called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) or Environmental Illness. Now recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Acts, MCS affects millions of American to various degrees, including some children who have been diagnosed as hyperactive and individuals who become sick in their work place and living space as well as thousands of soldiers who served in the Gulf War. It may also be linked to some causes of fibromyalgia.

MCS is a systemic situation in which a person reacts to chemicals at a level below the general population. A sort of allergy attack of bewildering and often debilitation symptoms such as headaches, muscle pain, fever, heart palpitations, mental confusion, respiratory problems, flu-like symptoms, asthma, rashes, fatigue and even abdominal pain caused by exposure to chemical pollutants including paints, perfumes, synthetics fabrics, plastics, mothballs, solvents, pesticides, household cleaners, chlorine, particle board, personal care products containing petrochemicals, aerosol sprays and even paper.

“The worst episode was triggered while I was swimming in a chlorinated pool,” explained Damiano. “I had pains shooting down my arms. I thought I was having a heart attack. In fact I remember thinking I was going to need a heart transplant. It was scary.”

According to an article published in the Boston Herald, Dr. Nicholas Ashford of M.I.T. reported that about 20% of the population is now chemically sensitive to varying degrees. “What we are talking about here is a two step process,” he states. “People seems to complain about an event — a chlorine spill or a pesticide exposure or moving into a new energy-tight building — after which they become sensitive to a number of substances of similar origin.

What happens then, we believe, is the brain misreads subsequent (low) exposures to chemicals as large exposure and sends the body in all kinds of flight-or-fight responses, including inappropriate signals to the immune system.”

But most people are unaware of what is causing their illness, maybe they feel nauseated by the smell of new clothes or perfume or develop a headache while shopping in the mall or lightheaded when cleaning the bathtub or have had a sore throat and stuffy noise since moving into a new office. These signs are usually brushed off and not recognized as exposure to toxins. MCS symptoms usually being after either an overwhelming chemical exposure or new, chronic, medium-level exposure. The symptoms improve when toxins are avoided.

In it’s guide to Indoor Air Quality, the EPA strongly urged homeowners and building manger to reduce the levels of formaldehyde and other chemicals indoors, noting: “There is some evidence that some people can develop chemical senilities after exposure.”

Having twenty years experience in construction and business, Robert Damiano saw this as an opportunity to enter into a new niche in the home market. “First I had to save my own ass.” say Damiano with a big smile, “Then help a few other people and lessen the demise of the planet. I had ecological choices to make.”

With more people experiencing this syndrome and growing pollution problems impact in their lives this niche would be a major way to improve the health of chemically sensitive individuals by creating less toxic and safer homes. And Damiano knew exactly how to do it.

He began with own unit and then detoxified the other five units he owns at the top of hill on Walnut Ave. in Revere. He has also renovated several others in the North Shore and owns some of them. He chose Revere for it’s proximity to the ocean air and sweeping views of Boston.

First he pulled up all carpeting and installed hard wood floors throughout. Only water based non-toxic varnish was applied to seal the floors and warm water and elbow grease is used to maintain the natural beauty of the wood. He installed water purification filters throughout to remove chemicals, chlorine and bacteria from the drinking water and bathing water since chemicals can be absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream.

Robert searches the country in pursuit of new, organic building materials. he uses non-toxic joint compound and plaster when constructing and paints with low VOc. he used formaldehyde-free wood cabinets and seals with water based polyurethane. All the units have an electric stove because gas fumes make MCS symptoms and asthma worse and are heated by a forced hot water system fueled by oil in a boiler room that is encapsulated with draft inducers which make them more energy efficient and ecologically safe.

Several of Damiano tenants with MCS feel comfortable for the first time in a long time and are grateful for his efforts. One such tenant is Joe Gleason who now works with Damiano at the Environmentally Friendly Housing Partnership also located on Walnut Ave. and the only one if it’s kind on the North shore. Joe Gleason earned a Masters Degree in English Literature at New York University and suffered from MCS after spending two years teaching in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

While teaching at the University of Wisconsin and writing short stories, Gleason suffered from chronic headaches and mental confusion. “I went from doctor to doctor trying to find a diagnosis and cure for my condition.” says Gleason in a letter. “Nothing helped. My condition became so acute I had to give up teaching and go on Social Security Disability.”

With a little help from his environmentally conscious friends, Joe Gleason is recovering from his illness and resume a more productive life.

Damiano has also customize his unit to suite is own individual needs since he lives and works in the same space. A journey through his apartment reveals evidence of an MCS sufferer. He sleeps on a mattress made of organically-grown cotton, free of all flame-retardant chemicals.His clothes are stored on open shelving of poplar board, often used in sauna’s. There are no curtains covering the windows of the third floor condo and antique furniture made of solid wood from Damiano’s years as a dealer decorate the rest of his home with comfort and safety.

His diet consists of organic foods, vitamins and bottled water, avoiding all sugar, starches and processed foods. And absolutely no household cleaning agents are welcome in his space. Instead he uses water, organic soaps, and non-toxic products for cleansing of body and home.

But his most creative invention is his work desks. The legs are made of narrow gray cinder blocks rising up to chair level like an ordinary desk. Then, two sealed wood boards extend across the top with a thick glass shelve sit on on top. Glass cubes about eight inches high sit at the sides and support another glass shelf extended over the top and creating a space for newspapers or books to be read through the glass. In between the glass shelves and built into the architectures of the desk is an air filtering system made of hepa filters, for removing mold spores and chemicals and coconut shell carbon filters design to trap 99% of pollen and dust particles.

Life has become tolerable for Robert Damiano and even full again. “I must be doing something right,” he says.

He doesn’t believe this is a life sentence and is feeling healthier all the time. He want to help others with MCS cope more easily in their home environments so they too can feel better and once again flourish in the world around them.