CHEMICAL SENSITIVITY: ‘COALNESS’ OR ‘OILNESS’

Geologists believe that oil and coal are composed of organic molecules because they themselves are derived from living things. In the case of coal, this is undoubtedly true: it is the partially decomposed remains of forests, which were made up of giant clubmosses and other extinct trees. These forests covered the earth about 300 million years ago. Oil is derived from the remains of microscopic sea creatures, and is even older, according to most geologists. A novel theory about the origin of oil suggests that it is actually a product of the earth’s core, and not of living organisms at all, but this is not widely accepted.

The origin of these substances is worth considering here, because there is so much misinformation on the subject. It is part of the folklore of clinical ecology that coal and oil are both derived from ‘ancient pine forests’. In fact, both were deposited many millions of years before the first pine tree grew on earth. The clubmosses, which created most of the coal seams, are more closely related to ferns than they are to pine trees, and oil – from which most synthetics are obtained – is not derived from plants at all. These distinctions are important, because the ‘ancient pine forest’ myth has led to the idea that chemical-sensitive patients are also likely to react to pine wood and pine products. Perhaps chemical-sensitive patients are affected by pine resins – which contain a lot of natural toxins to protect the tree – but it has nothing to do with the origins of coal and oil.

The ‘ancient pine forests’ concept is linked to another myth about chemical sensitivity – that patients who are ‘universal reactors’ are reacting to all synthetic organic chemicals because they come from a common source. In other words, they are reacting to the ‘coalness’ or ‘oilness’ of the chemical, rather than the chemical itself. This theory stretches credibility considerably, because synthetic compounds go through so many chemical reactions, distillations and purification procedures that they bear little relationship to their raw materials, let alone to each other. And in any case, those raw materials -coal and oil – are not at all similar in their own origins.

Again, these misconceptions are important, because die ‘common origin’ idea is the basis for some forms of therapy used with chemical sensitive patients. Doctors employing the ‘neutralization technique’, often give ethyl alcohol in sublingual drops (under-the-tongue drops) as neutralization therapy for mild forms of chemical sensitivity. Ethyl alcohol, also known as ethanol, is the alcohol we use as a social lubricant in wines, beers and spirits. But what is used in sub-lingual therapy is industrial alcohol. This is made by adding water to ethylene gas, which itself is obtained from oil. The theory is that industrial alcohol can desensitize someone to all synthetic organic chemicals, because it is derived from oil. It will be clear from the facts given above that this is highly unlikely. Which is not to say that ethyl alchohol drops do not work – they could help a chemical-sensitive patient by stimulating the liver to produce more detoxification enzymes.

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