EISC Holds Nowhere to Hide from Pollution Conference


            Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide (from Pollution), a conference organized by the Environmental Illness Society of Canada was the first ever national conference of environmental health activists in Canada. Over 50 people from across the country, including the Yukon met to hear speakers, share information and develop strategies for how to make change faster both nationally and locally.

            The conference underlined how people everywhere in Canada are facing the same issues and identifying the same needs. Conference participants identified pressing needs to educate physicians on the illness and find adequate diagnosis and treatment.  There was also strong concern with indoor air quality problems including the need for better research and standards and access to safe housing, schools and medical facilities. Financial issues, particularly the need for insurance companies to recognize environmental illnesses as disabling was another major concern.

            Keynote speaker Dr. Gunner Heuser, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of California introduced participants to a state of the art diagnostic technique, the PET scan.  He illustrated his talk with slides taken with this brain scan, which can show the malfunctioning areas in the brain of a person with chemical injury.  The technique can be used to prove chemical injury and has been helpful in establishing claims for compensation in the courts. Heuser also spoke about his research into treatment techniques using hyperbaric oxygen and biofeedback.

            A highlight of the conference was the newly released film "Gulf War Syndrome: Aftermath of a Toxic Battlefield."  The film interviews many vets, and documents the "chemical cocktail" of toxic exposures they lived with daily during the war including pesticides, oil fires, and depleted uranium. Producer Alison Johnson and a Canadian Gulf War veteran joined other panelists to discuss the issues after the film. 

            Other speakers covered a wide range of issues. MP Mac Harb brought participants up to date about his work to have the House of Commons pass Bill C416. The bill recognizes  Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Fibromyalgia (FM) and
Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) as potentially disabling illnesses and calls for increased government support for research. Harb noted that many MPs are very supportive of the bill.  Communications specialist Jay Kassirer spoke on the wide range of socio-economic impacts of environmental illnesses, from workplace productivity to family breakups to homelessness and suicide.  Naturopath Gloria Gilbere spoke on her experience with leaky gut syndrome and its connection to environmental illness. A variety of workshops provided people with an opportunity to sharpen their skills for making change more effectively in their own communities.

            "People were there to find out what others were doing, to network and exchange information, and to develop strategies for how to make change faster " reported Sheila Cole, NSAEHA's representative at the conference.  "They were impressed with Halifax's pesticide by law and the scent free policies here in Nova Scotia. These policies are in the lead in creating change in Canada."  Cole herself raised the need for more direct dialogue with and lobbying of industry to move faster in creating non-toxic goods and substances. "Putting total responsiblity on government to legislate and regulate environmental standards is too slow and cumbersome a process " she said.

            "There was real excitement about speaking with a stronger and more united voice." Cole concluded.