Burning During Pandemic Isn’t Worth The Risk




Dec 5, 2020

Santa Fe National Forest officials announced in March they were suspending intentionally set fires during the COVID-19 outbreak. The reason given was to protect the public from the hazardous effects of smoke that could “further endanger at-risk members of our communities” during the pandemic.

This was the right decision, since smoke can irritate your lungs, cause inflammation, affect the immune system and make you more prone to being infected with the coronavirus.

But these same officials now plan to resume burning this winter, despite the fact COVID-19 cases are not only still with us but are widespread in the community. In addition, private parties will join in burning thousands more acres this winter (“Prescribed burns planned for 7,400 acres across Northern New Mexico,” Nov. 29). It makes no sense to resume burning now, when the health risk from COVID-19 has increased exponentially.

The public has been doing its part to reduce the spread of the coronavirus by staying home, wearing masks and social distancing. The Forest Service and others must do their part as well. Instead, they want to put lives at risk, while ordinary people are sacrificing every day to protect public health.

The adverse impacts of smoke have real-world consequences. A friend of mine in her mid-70s suffers from asthma and numerous other medical problems. When exposed to smoke, including that from forest fires, she experiences a burning sensation in her nose and lungs, a severe headache, fatigue and has difficulty breathing.

This is not unusual. According to Santa Fe physician Erica Elliott, common symptoms of exposure to smoke include exacerbation of asthma, chronic cough, headaches, sinus congestion and fatigue that is not relieved with rest.
Even exposure to poor air quality for a short time is associated with an increased risk of developing COVID-19 and/or having a more severe case. Research into other viral infections shows that just two hours of exposure to smoke can make people more susceptible to respiratory infections.

Smoke from forest fires, whether intentionally set or naturally occurring, is hazardous even without the threat of COVID-19. Smoke often contains high levels of microscopic particles capable of lodging deep in the lungs and entering the bloodstream, contributing to respiratory diseases such as asthma and emphysema, cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke, and other health conditions, including harm to pregnant women and fetuses. The American Lung Association warns that children, older adults and those with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and bronchitis, chronic heart disease or diabetes are at elevated risk from smoke exposure.

Maintaining clean air during COVID-19 has other important health and economic benefits. The safest way to socialize is outdoors, but not if the air is laden with smoke. And during this time when many are isolated at home, it is critical for mental health to be able to go outside to exercise, walk the dog, see other humans or be in nature. Restaurants, ski resorts and other businesses that can operate outdoors also rely on clean air. No one is going to sit down at an outside cafe table when the air smells like a chimney.

The Forest Service needs to return to its initial commitment to protect public health by maintaining its moratorium on planned burning during the pandemic. Others should also rethink their plans to burn. We all need to pull together to get through this unprecedented time. Burning during COVID-19 is not worth the risk.

Please call Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other elected officials and urge them to use their emergency powers to stop hazardous burning.

Dr. Ann McCampbell is an environmental health consultant. For contact information and more, visit santafeforestcoalition.org.

A New Story About Coronavirus

A few months ago, I was taking a hike and scrolling through channels on my Walkman radio. A woman’s spoken voice caught my attention.

At first, I did not know why I kept listening, but after a while I was amazed at how many things this woman said I agreed with. The woman turned out to be science writer Sonia Shah (https://soniashah.com) and she was speaking about pandemics, a topic which she has studied extensively. I was impressed with her broad perspective on cholera, malaria, Lyme, Zika, and other diseases. She seemed to believe that governments are too frequently corrupt, corporations control everything, and environmental degradation is the cause of most human disease. I could not agree more.

Fast forward to July. A friend sent me an email about an article in The Nation entitled “It’s Time to Tell a New Story About Coronavirus – Our Lives Depend on It,”
(www.thenation.com/article/society/pandemic-definition-covid/). Lo and behold, it was written by Sonia Shah.

I was so impressed with the article, I submitted the following letter to the editor. An edited version was published in the Aug 24/31, 2020 edition of The Nation.

An Ounce of Prevention

Kudos to Sonia Shah for pointing out the need to tell a new story about Coronavirus. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with germ theory, but as Ms. Shah points out, it doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t address the question of how or why a host develops a disease. It skips over genetic, epigenetic, and nutritional factors; ignores the influence of medications and other disease states; and fails to address economic, environmental and geographic influences. And if the problem is only defined as the presence of a “germ,” then the solution is seen as killing the germ rather than changing the circumstances that enabled the microbe to cause illness.

The medical community would do well to adopt a broader perspective on illness using the model of integrated pest management (IPM) to control pests. In IPM, the first approach to dealing with insects in a building is not to pull out a poisonous spray, but to remove food and water sources, and seal cracks that allow insects to enter the building. Similarly, to control weeds, IPM focuses on creating healthy turf that is better able to exclude weeds. This approach is in line with the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. May we see the bigger picture of the Covid-19 pandemic and act accordingly.

Chemical Exposures – Low Levels & High Stakes

I am pleased to report that the book Chemical Exposures: Low Levels & High Stakes is now available to read or print from my website. It is on the Resources /Links page under listing for co-author Claudia Miller, MD.

Or click here to access the book.

Covid-19 and Chemical Sensitivities

Oh my!  Who could have imagined we would be living through a pandemic that has virtually brought the world to a standstill.  While everyone’s lives have been severely impacted by Covid-19, for those with chemical sensitivities, dealing with the virus, and precautions taken to reduce its spread, present some unique challenges, and surprisingly, some benefits.

The Covid-19 situation constitutes a triple threat:

  1. Health – Becoming ill from the virus
  2. Supply Chain – Disruptions in manufacturing and distribution of products, depletion of stock due to increased buying
  3. Economic – Increased unemployment, plummeting stock market, potential recession


Although there is a huge amount of conflicting and changing information about Covid-19, one consistent message is that prevention is the best strategy.  This may be one area where the chemically sensitive have an advantage, since we already know a lot about masks and staying away from other people! We are also quite experienced in air hugs, paying attention to what touched what, decontamination, putting potentially harmful items outside or in isolation rooms, and spending time alone.

But there are down sides to being chemically sensitive.  If we contract the virus, many of us could not tolerate a hospital environment or medications and life-saving procedures being used to treat severely ill patients with Covid-19.  Nor are we likely to be able to tolerate a vaccine for the virus.  Some of us, on the other hand, may already have supplemental oxygen at home which could be used to reduce shortness of breath associated with Covid infection.  

Another problem for chemically sensitive individuals is the increased use of sanitizers and disinfectants. Many of us do not tolerate bleach, rubbing alcohol, phenol (Lysol), and other chemicals being used to disinfect surfaces and hands.  Some of these products also contain fragrance which only adds to their toxicity. 

You might be wondering if chemically sensitive people are more susceptible to Covid-19 than healthy people.  In my experience, there is a wide range of susceptibility to viral respiratory infections among chemically sensitive individuals.  Some seem to come down with one bug after another, while others are only rarely affected.  I think the jury is still out on who is most susceptible to becoming infected with Covid-19, both for the general public as well as those with chemical sensitivities.

Now the good news. Air quality in many places has improved dramatically due to reduced industrial emissions and vehicle exhaust, among other things.  In northern NM, the Forest Service has even suspended prescribed burns.  What a welcome relief to be able to breathe outdoors with less chance of getting sick from air pollutants.

But for those who are electromagnetically hypersensitive (EHS), the situation is not good.  The new reliance on electronic devices to connect with others is increasing electropollution significantly.  Those sheltering at home are making more calls on their cell phones and spending more time on the internet, usually through wireless connections.  And there are already calls for expediting, rather than stalling, the installation of hazardous 5G networks to increase the speed and capacity of phone and internet connections. 


Those with chemical sensitivities are often dependent on a narrow range of foods, water, supplements, medicines, and other products that we tolerate.  If these become unavailable, we may be in real trouble, because there are no tolerated substitutes.  

The Covid-19 situation has shut down some manufacturing, much transportation, and sent people to nervously stock up on toilet paper and other items.  As a result, many foods and personal products like soap, shampoo, and laundry detergent may not be available. 

It is indeed shocking to go into stores and see rows of empty shelves that had been teeming with products only weeks ago.  Not being able to find needed products is stressful for everyone, but the impact on chemically sensitive people is especially great.

The only silver lining for chemically sensitive people is that we frequently stock up on precious tolerated items, like shampoo, dental floss, supplements, and other things, to make sure we have them in case they become temporarily or permanently unavailable.


Last, but not least, the Covid-19 situation is having a huge economic impact.  Unemployment rates have skyrocketed and stocks have plummeted.  Even though many chemically people do not work or own stocks, the Covid-19 virus can still have a financial impact.

Some chemically sensitive people are financially dependent on their employed spouses who may have lost their jobs.  Others may have a special needs trust invested in stocks that lost money.  Those who do work may see their business drop off substantially or be shut down.

For now, those on fixed incomes are probably financially secure, but if there is a serious economic recession, no one knows if there will be cuts in Social Security and other benefit programs. 

The bottom line is that this is an extremely difficult and unprecedented time for all of us.  Information about the Covid virus and recommendations for how to deal with it change daily.  For those with chemical sensitivities, whose lives are often hanging by a thread during the best of times, the Covid-19 crisis poses especially difficult challenges and adds to the already daunting task of trying to stay safe.

Treating Chronic Lyme Disease with Antabuse (disulfiram)

There is an exciting possibility that Antabuse (disulfiram) can effectively treat, and possibly even cure, chronic Lyme disease. Antabuse has been used for years to discourage alcoholics from consuming alcohol, because consuming even small amounts when taking this drug can cause a terrible hangover. But it turns out that disulfiram also has antibiotic properties. Lab experiments found that disulfiram was significantly more effective at killing Borrelia burgdorferi (the bacteria that causes Lyme disease) than other antibiotics commonly used to treat it, and in some cases, disulfiram completely eradicated this bacteria. The jury is still out about disulfiram’s effectiveness in humans, but initial case reports of Lyme patients who are trying disulfiram are positive. One patient who took disulfiram for four months has remained symptom-free for two years after discontinuing the drug. For more information about treating chronic Lyme disease with Antabuse (disulfiram), see this excellent article by Dan Kinderlehrer, MD, “Disulfiram-breakthrough drug for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases?” https://www.lymedisease.org/disulfiram-kinderlehrer/

Human Health Effects of Forest Fire Smoke

I recently researched the human health effects of exposure to forest fire smoke for the Santa Fe Forest Coalition (SFFC). My report was included in SFFC comments on a proposed revision of the Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) plan. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) makes cursory mention of the possible adverse health effects of smoke from prescribed fires on the elderly and other sensitive populations, but basically dismisses it. It certainly fails to analyze these impacts in a thorough way as required by NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act).

Some things I learned in doing the research is there is no safe level of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), there is evidence to suggest that PM2.5 from burning vegetation is more toxic than that from urban sources, and in 2013, the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) classified outdoor air pollution and particulate matter as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1). This is not good news considering the fact the U.S. Forest Service is planning to conduct increased regular prescribed burns into perpetuity. The attitude of the SFNF is if you do not like their smoke, move.

Even though it will be a difficult to change their attitude and behavior, I encourage everyone to let the Forest Service know how prescribed fire smoke harms you and/or why you do not want yourself, your children, or pets to be exposed to it, especially since aggressive forest thinning and burning will not accomplish the goal of reducing catastrophic wildfires.  Most evidence indicates these fires are the result climate change, not too many trees.

Relating to Others When You Are Chemically Sensitive

I am pleased to announce that I am adding a new article to my web site. Years ago, I wrote a booklet entitled Relating to Others When You Are Chemically Sensitive, but I never published it.  Recently, I updated it and today am making it available on my website under Writings and Publications. Relating to Others When You Are Chemically Sensitive

Communicating With Others When You Are Chemically Sensitive

Yesterday, I was a featured guest on a conference call hosted by MCS Friends, an online and phone support group for people with chemical sensitivities.  This call was one of a series of discussions on how to communicate with others when you are chemically sensitive, including suggestions for how to explain chemical sensitivities to friends, family members, doctors, etc. We also discussed health and medical issues of interest to those with MCS.

The hour and a half discussion was recorded and the replay is available to MCS Friends members.

To become a member, go to www.mcsfriends.org and follow instructions there, or you can call 248-301-2283 to join by phone.


The Problem With Air “Fresheners”


Building and Environment 111 (2017) 279-284

Anne Steinemann, University of Melbourne, Australia


• Air fresheners are used throughout society.

• Air fresheners, even ones called green and organic, can emit potentially hazardous chemicals.

• Fewer than 10% of air freshener ingredients are typically disclosed to the public.

• Over 20% of the general US population report adverse health effects from air fresheners.

• Fragrance-free indoor environments receive a majority of support.


Air fresheners are pervasive within indoor built environments, such as workplaces, schools, housing, transportation, hotels, hospitals, care facilities, and a range of private and public buildings. Air fresheners are designed to impart an aroma to the air environment or to mask odors, with the intent of creating a pleasing indoor space. However, despite the intent, air fresheners can emit and generate a range of potentially hazardous air pollutants that can impair air quality. Even so-called green and organic air fresheners can emit hazardous air pollutants. Air freshener ingredients are largely unknown and undisclosed, owing to regulatory protections on consumer product ingredients and on fragrance formulations. In studies, fewer than ten percent of all volatile ingredients are typically disclosed on air freshener labels or material safety data sheets. From an indoor air quality perspective, air fresheners have been indicated as a primary source of volatile organic compounds within buildings. From a health perspective, air fresheners have been associated with adverse effects, such as migraine headaches, asthma attacks, mucosal symptoms, infant illness, and breathing difficulties. This article investigates the seeming paradox that products designed to improve the indoor environment can pose unintended and unknown risks. It examines the science, health, and policy perspectives, and provides recommendations and research directions.


Ecosystem Rights Movement

This week I stumbled on to an exciting new movement seeking to grant ecosystems the rights of personhood under the law! At first this may seem odd, but corporations already enjoy this right, which has significantly hampered efforts to protect the environment.  Granting ecosystems personhood rights would at least make it a fairer fight. 

Environmentalists Seek Personhood for Colorado River Ecosystem

VICTORIA PRIESKOP, September 27, 2017

DENVER (CN) — In a new twist in the long, tortuous history of Western water law, an environmental group sued Colorado this week in federal court, as next friend of the Colorado River Ecosystem, asking the court to grant the river personhood.

Deep Green Resistance and its members want the Colorado River ecosystem granted personhood in the same way a ship, an ecclesiastic corporation or a standard commercial corporation have it — as famously stated by presidential candidate Mitt Romney: “Corporations are people, my friend” — for purposes of constitutional protection and enforcement.

Numerous Supreme Court rulings have upheld corporate personhood, particularly in the realm of campaign finance, notable Buckley v. Valeo (1976), First National Bank of Boston v.Bellotti (1978), and Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (2010).

The plaintiffs spend five of the lawsuit’s 22 pages arguing why the Colorado River ecosystem should be granted personhood, using corporate rights as “an instructive analogy.”

“The Colorado is 60 to 70 million years old and has enabled, sustained, and allowed for human life for as long as human life has been extant in the Western United States, yet the Colorado has no rights or standing whatsoever to defend itself and ensure its existence; while a corporation that can be perfected in fifteen minutes with a credit card can own property, issue stock, open a bank account, sue or defend in litigation, form and bind contracts, claim Fourth Amendment guarantees, due process, equal protection, hold religious beliefs and perhaps most famously invest unlimited amounts of money in support of its favorite political candidate.”

After citing the Supreme Court rulings in Citizens United and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores (2014), the plaintiffs continue: “The American system of law is replete with doctrines, examples and solutions with regard to when a party cannot bring suit itself and requires another to stand in its stead, including guardians ad litem, parens patriae, executors who can bring suits on behalf of an estate, and trustees. The fiduciary relationship in which one party can litigate in the best of interests of another party has long been recognized by U.S. courts.”

Forty million people in seven states draw water from the Colorado River, which irrigates nearly 4 million acres of cropland. Thirty-four Native American tribes also draw water from the river, which has been reduced to barely a trickle by the time it empties into the Gulf of California.

The complaint enumerates the river’s ecological importance and the dangers presented to it by laws and practices, including a series of compacts which allow various states to divert more water from the than it contains. The so-called Law of the River encourages upstream states to divert water whether they need it or not, in a use-it-or-lose-it arrangement.

The plaintiffs attribute much of the damage done to the river’s ecosystem to a failure of how environmental law views the land itself. “Environmental law has failed to protect the natural environment because it accepts the status of nature and ecosystems as property, while merely regulating the rate at which the natural environment is exploited. Its failure can be seen from the worsening of climate change, the continued pollution of ground and surface water, and the decline of every major ecosystem on the continent.”

Citing recent rulings in Ecuador, Colombia, India and some U.S. municipalities which have recognized that rivers, glaciers and other ecosystems may be treated as legal persons, the plaintiffs ask the court to grant the Colorado River ecosystem a person, capable of possessing rights, and that among these rights are the right “to exist, flourish, regenerate, be restored, and naturally evolve.”

It asks also that Deep Green Resistance be recognized as a guardian and/or next friend of the river, and be allowed to sue the State of Colorado on the river’s behalf.

Deep Green Resistance member Deanna Meyer, a plaintiff, said in a statement: “Without the recognition that the Colorado River possesses certain rights of its own, it will always be subject to wide-scale exploitation without any real consequences. I’m proud to stand with the other next friends in this lawsuit to enforce and defend the rights of the Colorado, and we’re calling on groups across the country to do the same to protect the last remaining wild places in this country and beyond.”

The group is represented by Jason Flores-Williams, a criminal defense attorney who became well known when he sued Denver for its sweeps upon the homeless.

“We’re bringing this lawsuit to even the odds,” he said in a statement. “Corporations today claim rights and powers that routinely overwhelm the efforts of people to protect the environment. Our judicial system recognizes corporations as persons, so why shouldn’t it recognize the natural systems upon which we all depend as having rights as well?”

Environmentalists Seek Personhood for Colorado River Ecosystem

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