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THE SENSITIVES by Oliver Broudy


The Rise of Environmental Illness and the Search for America's Last Pure Place

by Oliver Broudy

Pub Date: July 14th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-9821-2850-0
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

A journalist takes to the road to meet people suffering from hypersensitivity to chemicals and toxins.

“Environmental illness” has increased dramatically since it was first recognized in 1962, affecting as many as 30% of Americans, baffling the medical establishment, and eluding sufferers’ quest for a cure. Making his nonfiction book debut, journalist Broudy offers an animated recounting of his search to meet some “sensitives,” as they call themselves, to understand their experiences, and to reflect on his own concerns about the prevalence of synthetic chemicals—85,000, he discovered, including 9,000 food additives and 17 pesticides—to which most people are habitually exposed. Thyroid, liver, and kidney cancer rates have skyrocketed, as have autism, intellectual impairment, allergies, obesity, the early onset of puberty, and birth defects. “I am trying to be sane,” writes the author, but he questions whether chemicals have a role in these burgeoning numbers. Certainly, sensitives believe the environment is assaulting: Although they are a diverse group with varying susceptibilities, Broudy found that hypersensitivity could be induced by “a single, massive toxic exposure,” such as a house renovation, insect fumigation, or household mold; or by “years of low-level exposures.” Once afflicted, sensitives experience symptoms that include asthma, rash, headache, fatigue, memory problems, inflammation, and shortness of breath, which they try to control through diet (one sensitive touted protein bars made of organic grass-fed lamb meat), supplements, esoteric bottled water, and relocation, likely to the high elevation, dry air, and relative isolation of the desert Southwest. Broudy evokes that landscape in painterly prose, offering sharply drawn portraits of the sensitives he meets along the way and contextualizing their plight with lively digressions into conventional, and unconventional, medical history. Sensitives, frustrated with mainstream medicine, tired of being diagnosed with psychosomatic illness, and despairing of making their experience credible, have found a respectful, if sometimes bemused, chronicler in Broudy.

A sympathetic portrayal of a perplexing illness.