Coal miners used to send canaries into the mines ahead of them to check the level of lethal gases. If the canaries died, the gasses had reached deadly levels.
If they lived, it was safe to mine.
Today, we find ourselves facing an insidious, growing public health problem – we are being made sick by our environment. More and more of us are becoming allergic to common, everyday surroundings at work, at home and in public places. About 10 million people are afflicted with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) in the United States alone. According to a national survey, 11.2% of the population report varying degrees of “ hypersensitivity to common chemicals” (Caress & Steinemann, National Prevalence of Asthma & Chemical Hypersensitivity JOEM Vol 47. No. 5 May 2005). According to an article in Business Week (May 2000), the population that is allergic to chemicals will grow to 60% by 2020.
MCS is a chronic condition marked by greatly increased sensitivity to many different chemicals, such as new paint, carpeting, cosmetics, tobacco smoke, pesticides, automobile exhaust, gas stoves, and many commercial household-cleaning products, among other things.
Although women are affected more often than men, MCS occurs in people of all ages, races, and economic backgrounds.
People who live with MCS commonly suffer from debilitating symptoms provoked by chemical exposures. These symptoms include shortness of breath, migraines, gastrointestinal problems, aching joints and muscles, weakness, memory loss, impaired balance and concentration problems and even seizures and anaphylactic shock. There is no known cure for MCS.
The biggest issue for those with MCS is creating a safe home environment where chemical exposures are minimal.
In Homesick, Susan takes viewers on a road trip to experience how drastically MCS has altered the lives of its victims. Through her extensive research, which includes over thirty interviews, Susan explores the lives of doctors, architects, teachers, housewives and students living with this disease. She takes us into these brave survivors’ non-toxic homes, which include tents, a house on stilts and a teepee. Susan is the connecting thread between these stories as she narrates the journey from her MCS-accessible van.
Its almost inevitable that anyone with significant chemical sensitivities will sometimes be homeless or live in substandard housing. Typically, people with MCS are forced to move from one place to the next because their homes become unsafe by the use of chemicals by neighbors, landlords and others. All too often they may find themselves homeless or are forced to live in toxic spaces where their health deteriorates. Tragically, the overwhelming nature of this illness and the difficulty of locating safe housing has resulted in a number of suicides.
Homesick explores the daily struggle of people with MCS. It takes us into their homes to show just how debilitating this disease is and how difficult and imperative it is for chemically sensitive people to find and keep safe housing. Because Susan herself has extensive chemical sensitivities, the film is a thoughtful, compassionate and sometimes even humorous look at life with MCS.
Perhaps because its ramifications are so frightening, MCS continues to be denied by society. The advances of industrialized civilization have brought us to an age in which our daily lives are dominated by the use of plastics and other synthetic chemicals in our food, water, shelter, heath care and transportation. People suffering with MCS serve to make us aware of the dire consequences of living in a society where chemicals are used in virtually every area of our lives.
The importance of this film is not limited to those who suffer from MCS, because unhealthy housing affects us all.
One of the foremost questions of the 21st century has become: How do we create a sustainable environment? We can begin by taking heed of the plight these human canaries.