Continued from Part 1 of the series, Mold Maintenance and Maladaptation: “Me, My Mom, and the Maltese“
A big part of my MCS (multiple chemical sensitivity) story has to do with our well pump breaking on the very weekend of the events described in my last article. It was a pain to have no running water for dishes and laundry, so my parents (whom I live with) found a company on Angie’s List to replace it as soon as possible. They did it fast, and they did it furious, so we had running water within 6 hours of losing it. However, I was informed (thankfully) by my mother that (unfortunately) there would be chlorine running through our pipes for 24 hours, and that it would “clear itself quickly.” I knew right then there would be trouble.
Following the instructions from the company that performed the well pump repair, I didn’t use the sink for 24 hours. (Unbeknownst to me, we were also supposed to not wash laundry, so nobody followed that rule.) The next night, I did dishes as usual and even ran the dishwasher. Immediately after doing this, I felt distinctly more woozy than I already was from the other stuff possibly bothering me, and that night, I had some trouble falling asleep. I awoke at about 3 AM (the witching hour) incredibly nauseous with some very bad pain in my bowels, as well as a splitting headache, congestion, and extreme fatigue.
It seemed all week actually (since the troubles after antibiotics were administered to my dog) that the bottom was just dropping out on my ileum and upper small intestinal area (without diarrhea). I have described this before as “food digesting (or not digesting at all) too quickly.” It felt just terrible, and I subsequently started to get hives again, as well as the “twitchies,” more headaches (pressure on temples), and lightheadedness.
Flushing Your Well with Chlorine
I’d experienced things like this before, but not from chlorine. I had just assumed there was a ton of chlorine, and that it was having a devastating effect on my entire constitution. But I figured it would clear out of the pipes eventually. That was when I looked up an article about chlorine deployment in well systems and found this.
When I read it, I found out you’re not just supposed to wait 24 hours then begin using as normal. Instead, you’re supposed to let it run through your system systematically to every faucet once, then after 24 hours, you need to start the dechlorination process, and systematically run the chlorine out. Then, in an ideal world, you would use a tester to check each sink for remaining chlorine residue until you’re sure and resume normal usage. My not being made aware of this made me very angry, and I did protest to my landlords (parents) upon finding it out. I also began the process of purging water directly from the well pump to try and get the chlorine out. For future reference, this well pump resides in our moldy basement, so I ended up with lots more facetime in a moldy area than I’d had in awhile. Obviously this didn’t help my worsening condition.
For chlorine removal, the article above recommends running the water from a remote source (like a garden hose) for an hour every three hours. I think it only took half an hour for it to run completely dry. This didn’t bode well for my case of doing this thing right in my parents’ eyes, but I was able to eventually convince them to let me continue the process in smaller increments, even though they insisted that there wasn’t anymore chlorine in the water.
After another sleepless night with the dishwasher on (in my opinion, it was vaporizing the chlorine and emitting chlorine gas that was affecting my ability to sleep), I was determined to look into ways to test the water. I had heard that you could get a $20 well water test kit at the Public Health Dept. in the next county up, so I headed up there.
Harford County Dept. of Public Health Review
Let me just say, this was the best experience with government I’ve ever had. It inspired me to become more involved in local government, and to not be afraid to go and talk to them in person for problems that have practical solutions. Perhaps I will even talk with them about my MCS and the housing construction across from me that’s now making it impossible to live on my property even outdoors (more on that later).
Most of my discussion with John, the “knowledge bar” attendant at HCo PHD, was spent ascertaining the likely potential for excess chlorine in my well water. You see, my parents had been telling me they couldn’t smell it and that there was no way there was any left after it was flushed out. Chlorine evaporates from water, yes, but as John told me, it stays trapped in the pipes after you administer it, and it doesn’t go away as fast as you might like. However, every time I washed dishes in the kitchen, I got the same symptoms and a bit of an itch in my nostril followed by a runny nose. Then I would have severe difficulty sleeping that night, jerking awake from myclonus, or simply waking up at 3 with a severe stomach ache and nausea. It was quite unpleasant.
I was determined to get an accurate chlorine test before feeling comfortable using my sink again. The Home Depot test kit with strips and a color chart, which I had briefly tried, lacked any sensitivity it seemed, and I wanted something more sensitive to go by. John from HCo PHD told me what’s up. You go to a pool supply store and get a test kit with DPD liquid for quite cheap. So I went down to Leslie’s pool supply store (gagging from the extreme amount of chlorine in the air there, telling myself it’ll be over soon enough…) and bought one for just over $10. Not bad. Here’s how they work:
Some thoughts on this test kit: It’s kind of scary that the liquids in the test kit that you use are way more toxic than chlorine itself. Made me wonder if I wasn’t making some horrible mistake that would ultimately incapacitate me further, but I persisted very cautiously. It is important to note that you need to wait awhile to get a good color and to really view the water in good light. At first after mixing, I didn’t get a significant color at all, so I was a little confused as to why I had smelled chlorine. However, thankfully I didn’t dispose of the mixture, as I was worried about putting the toxic testing liquids into the sink/septic. I actually ended up leaving the mixture on the table in a white cup, and after an hour or so it was definitely pink.
Chlorine in tap water; DPD test results in a white cup.
So mystery solved, there was definitely a significant (enough for me to smell it anyway) amount of chlorine left in those pipes. I believe this indicated between 1 and 3 ppm, and that’s about what you get in pool water and considered “safe” to swim in anyway.
Let me just go back to when I was at the Public Health Dept. in the county above mine. John was very helpful, and he knew a lot about the subject. I recommend not being shy about any issues of environmental pollution, or even issues of maintenance in your own home that you may be concerned about. They provide free information, and they don’t seem to care if you’re wasting your time. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your health, especially as it relates to your environment. Going to this department of your local government is one way to get a good idea of the health standards that are supposed to be abided but are probably not.
Chlorine: A Gamble on Your Health They’re Willing to Take
Chlorine in particular in your environment is not something you want to mess with. This CDC fact sheet on chlorine gas that I looked up while staying at a hotel with a pool in the lobby really opened my eyes as to how much of a problem it really is. Why is this stuff so readily used in jacuzzis (which vaporize it—hello) and pools? CDC also has a fact sheet up about chlorine as a potential agent for chemical terrorism. Companies and contractors may not be adhering to the correct standards and practices when it comes to chemicals.
I don’t know, pin it down to human resilience, but there are those of us who cannot take the toxic levels of chemicals that are being deployed without our consent all around us. This haphazard distribution often goes unnoticed because of the extreme tolerance (or obliviousness) to these things of the individuals dispersing it. John at the PHD even told me that he knew a church that had to empty their pipes at 100s of gallons every hour for almost a week due to the addition of 5 gallons of bleach to their tank without consideration of well-depth. He said it was pretty intolerable to even be in the building during those days, and he’s not even sensitive to chlorine. These things matter tremendously, and careful attention must be paid.
This is to say nothing of the problem of chlorine in municipal tap water. This is not even the subject of this article, though it definitely applies, and we can obviously draw parallels from what we’ve learned from the negative effects of a temporary chlorine “spike” after well maintenance. Tap water chlorination is meant to be kept under safe limits, but everyone has probably experienced a hotel (or entire city) where the tap seems to spew out pool water. Also, there’s those hot showers after which you come out and just feel tired or even have a headache afterwards. Yeah, you’re absorbing chlorine through your skin, and that’s not a good thing.
Chlorine’s primary negative effect is on your gut biome, which needless to say if you’ve read your blog, is a big deal to me. It should be a big deal to you as well. You want to do everything in your power, including avoidance of antibiotics as well as antibacterial substances all around, to avoid compromising your friendly gut bacteria. This will help you to avoid weight gain, food allergies, mental disorders, and possibly many much worse things that a balanced gut biome protect you from.
The Next Challenge
So needless to say, I redoubled my efforts to remove all of the chlorine from my well, and I spent hour after hour going into the basement to drain about 100 gallons or so from the tank (5 minutes tops, considering the rate at which my well pump pumps—this difference should be taken account when running water from a well for any length of time). By the way, doing this in a remote area like the actual base tank or a garden hose from an outdoor spigot is best, and make sure not to empty it into your bathtub if you have septic, because it can kill bacteria that help decompose all of the sewage therein (yes, septic tanks have an ecosystem—just like your gut!). It wasn’t very fun going into a moldy basement to open and close the tap over and over again, though, as I am quite sensitive to mold.
Speaking of, I’ve barely mentioned mold in this article, which by the title should have heavily featured mold, so let me advance the story to the next phase. The picture explaining my condition became even clearer for us over the next week, as what we found next was the more likely contributing factor toward my worsening health woes:
Moldy potatoes in our midst.