Wood smoke creates victims who have real stories to share

Susy Mallin shares with the Gabriola Island Clean Air Society her story about wood smoke and how it has affected her life. She lives in Port Alberni, BC and this woman is out of options. How does your right to burn trump these concerns?

My story is one of a vibrant, creative and full life gone very wrong due to the belief that
burning wood is harmless to ones self and others. I myself once lived under this
misconception and now realize that no one has the right to inflict the terrible toxic harm
that comes from any kind of wood burning.

I had always had a fireplace in my home. In the 70’s I lived in the Slocan Valley and
burned wood as a heat source. My youngest child was a toddler, and developed
bronchitis that became so bad she spent 2-3 months a year for about 3 years in the
hospital in an oxygen tent. No one connected my daughter’s illness to the burning of
wood in our home, and the concentration of wood smoke in the environment which was
created from all of the other homes using wood as well. We moved to Vancouver, a
supposedly much more polluted place than the lovely rural Slocan Valley, and she never
again had to return to the hospital for bronchitis. We know now that it was the wood
burning as she is in her mid 40’s and attempts to avoid woodsmoke as it brings on the
bronchitis and migraines.

In the late 80’s my design career was in full gear. I opened a small jewelry making
business employing about 15 people and sold hand crafted jewelry all over Canada and
the States. Due to some of the chemicals in the industrial glues we used (even though we
used safety precautions) I became ill and found myself slightly sensitive to things that at
one time did not bother me. This illness passed, but the sensitivity to everyday products
became something I lived with. I stopped wearing perfumes, avoided certain cleaning
products, and carried on living. I didn’t give it a lot of thought at the time, as it had not
yet impacted my life in any disabling way.

I had a successful career as a designer, and was also a professional musician. My social
life was wonderful, I had a loving family, owned my own homes at times in the city, and
at times in the gorgeous Gulf Islands. I was very fit and active. The increase in my
sensitivities to chemicals seemed under control and I really had no idea what was to

Slowly my sensitivities intensified. I had always had a fireplace in each of my homes,
and found slowly but surely I was becoming slightly ill each time I burned wood. I
stopped burning wood completely somewhere around 2001. At this point I had only
been burning for ambience for many years. I lived in a rural community at the time, and
began to feel more overwhelmed with how many products were making me ill. I started
the never ending task of attempting to keep the smoke from the other homes around me
from entering the house. It was the beginning of my nightmare, and the beginning of the
end of the life I knew.

In 2010 I made my last appearance as a musician, and socialized at a design event for
the last time. I had become so sensitive to products containing chemicals as well as the
air pollution from petroleum and smoke particulates outside that I became almost
housebound. It was at this time that I was told the name of the illness I was suffering
was Multiple Chemical Sensitivities or Multiple Chemical Injury. I could no longer function in any productive way.

I gave up my house and moved into a small cabin on 2 acres near Gibsons BC. The
neighbours all used wood to heat their homes, burn their trash, have their camp fires...
all year long for one reason or another smoke crept into my little home which was
becoming sealed up with tin foil on the inside and plastic on the outside to prevent
smoke from getting in. Many things made me ill, but smoke was like a terrifying
monster leaving me in convulsions, unable to breathe, walk or speak. I could not leave
the cabin as the air outside was worse than the air inside. I had nowhere to run. This
constant poisoning exacerbated my already debilitating illness and my sensitivities grew
exponentially. I became sensitive even to natural volatile organic compounds. Now even
nature had become my enemy. I could not wear a respirator as I became sensitive to the
materials they are made of, and I could not use oxygen as the metal the tanks are made
from began to contaminate the oxygen inside. I was left with only a ceramic mask with a
piece of organic fabric soaked in filtered water to hold over my face when being
attacked by the fine particulates.

I have moved twice since leaving the cabin, searching for a more smoke free
environment. I am totally housebound now. My son is my full time caregiver. No one
can visit me as I am so sensitive I become ill from whatever chemical product may be
lurking on them. I am sensitive to chemicals in clothing and have a very difficult time
with even organic clothing. I cannot tolerate most heat sources and must spend
thousands of dollars for heaters made for people with my condition and am fortunate to
have found something I can tolerate to stay warm. My entire past is wiped out as far as
life with my children and grandchildren, beloved friends, furniture, clothing, precious
items people collect through life. I cannot have printed material in my home. The list
goes on. It is a life of isolation so devastating. My family visits are over skype or the
phone (both of which I can only tolerate for a small amount of time). I have no wifi,
only the old ethernet system and no cell phone.

Doctors who specialize in this illness say avoidance is the only treatment they know
really works. Constant exposure to smoke was the strong catalyst that drove my illness.
It does not matter how clean you think you are burning. Wood smoke has deadly toxic
chemicals that kill thousands of people yearly. I cannot practice avoidance from
chemicals no matter what I do because people burn wood in every community and
believe it is their right to do so even though they are poisoning themselves, their children
and loved ones and their neighbours.

Shame on all who refuse to see the truth because it impacts their life style. The truth is a
click away as the scientific data is there for all to see.

I have applied for Physician assisted suicide and my doctor, family and friends are all
supportive of this decision. I live like a trapped animal and they have seen this develop
with their own eyes and know it to be truth.


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