• Switzerland's news in English
 
Swiss building provides refuge for the sensitive
Photo: AFP

Swiss building provides refuge for the sensitive

AFP · 6 Apr 2014, 12:29

Published: 06 Apr 2014 12:29 GMT+02:00

For a reason: the structure has been purpose built for people who say exposure to everyday products like perfume, hand lotion or wireless devices make them so sick they cannot function.

"I have been suffering since I was a child," said Christian Schifferle, the 59-year-old head of the Healthy Life and Living Foundation (www.stiftung-glw.com), the prime driver behind the project.

"This will really move my life in another direction."

Schifferle and the other residents suffer from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), a chronic condition not broadly recognised by the medical community.

Those afflicted, however, believe it is sparked by low-level 
exposure to chemicals in things such as cigarette smoke, pesticides, scented products and paint fumes.

Twelve of the 15 apartments in the earth-coloured building in a remote part of Leimbach, on the outskirts of Switzerland's largest city, have already been rented since it opened in December.

Many occupants also suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity, in which electrical circuits and radiation from wireless equipment make them equally ill.

"It makes me weak, anxious, I can't breath, my lungs hurt, and I get dizzy," says Schifferle, who suffers from both conditions.

While living in the building will not cure Schifferle or others, it aims to make daily lives more comfortable for people whose conditions have often left them isolated and unable to hold jobs.

Schifferle, who first felt sick from the fumes in his parents' furniture factory when he was three or four, has lived most of his adult life in a trailer in the pristine Swiss Alps.

It was not until he was 35 and stumbled across an American book on MCS that he realized he was not alone, but it was another decade before he found a doctor who took him seriously.

"All my life it has been like I was only half alive," he said. 

The new building is the first of its kind in Europe, according to officials in Zurich who decided to play a pioneering role in helping people with what they called "a very harmful problem".

They estimate about 5,000 people in Switzerland alone suffer from MCS.

The city made available the land and provided interest-free loans to help finance the 6.1-million Swiss-franc ($6.9-million) project.

"We wanted to help these people to have a calm home where they hopefully will be less sick," said Zurich housing office spokeswoman Lydia Trueb.

With a mask covering his nose and mouth, Schifferle proudly shows off the 0.0 reading on a handheld electricity-measuring instrument with a triangular, green antenna.

"This room is very good, because we have almost no electricity," he said, nodding around a large common area equipped with a big carbon filter to purify the air.

Anyone entering the building is expected to switch off their mobile phones, which in any case do not function inside.

But there are landlines for telephone and Internet communication in the building.

Near the entrance, the only cleaning and personal hygiene products residents are allowed to use in the building are on prominent display.

"Avoiding the environmental burdens is really the only thing that helps most of these patients," said John van Limburg Stirum, an internist specialized in environmental medicine who has treated Schifferle and other MCS patients at the Seegarten Klinik near Zurich.

"They have to find shelter somewhere where there are no antennas, no radiation from cell phones, which is getting more and more difficult," said Stirum.

The condition is difficult to pin down, and sufferers are often dismissed as hypochondriacs.

But a growing body of research suggests an initial chemical exposure can spark an "allergic reaction" in some people when they later confront even very low levels of a range of chemicals.

"These patients are really suffering," said Stirum, who is urging medical recognition of the condition.

The Zurich building was constructed with special materials, by purpose-trained builders banned from smoking or using scented products like cologne as they worked.

Story continues below…

It has a ventilation system aimed at sucking out all odours.

"I think a good example for the whole thing is the plaster on the wall," said architect Andreas Zimmermann, who designed it.

"It doesn't smell, and that is very important for these people," he added, saying he searched for months for a completely odourless plaster.

The floor plan is layered like an onion "so that the deeper you enter the apartment, the cleaner the rooms get," he said.

The building's most "contaminated" parts are the common areas, main hallway, stairwell and elevator in the centre.

From there, residents enter their apartments, moving through a hallway where they can remove "polluted" clothing, the bathroom and kitchen or other technically equipped rooms, before getting to the "cleanest" rooms: the living room and bedroom.

A special "net" has also been built into the facade and roof to protect inhabitants from electromagnetic or electrostatic waves or fields, Zimmermann said.

Despite all the efforts, Schifferle still only spends a few days a week in his new apartment. More ventilation is needed, he said, until all traces and scents of the builders are gone.

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
One in four Swiss residents smoke: report
Photo: AFP

One in four Swiss residents smoke: report
5 hours ago

The share of tobacco smokers remains stubbornly high in Switzerland, with one in four residents lighting up, says Addiction Switzerland.

Former French minister goes on trial for tax fraud
Former French budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac. Photo: AFP

Former French minister goes on trial for tax fraud
7 hours ago

Former French budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac, who resigned in disgrace in 2013 after admitting to having a secret Swiss bank account, goes on trial on Monday for tax fraud.

Beyoncé includes Zurich date on world tour
Beyoncé at Super Bowl 50. Photo: Matt Cowan/Getty Images North America/AFP

Beyoncé includes Zurich date on world tour
8 hours ago

American singer and songwriter Beyoncé is planning to appear in Zurich this summer as part of a world tour announced at the end of her Super Bowl half time show on Sunday.

Diver dies in Lake Geneva near shipwreck
Photo: AFP/File

Diver dies in Lake Geneva near shipwreck
18 hours ago

A 44-year-old diver from the canton of Vaud died after plunging into Lake Geneva near the site of a shipwreck from the 19th century, police say.

Hingis and Bencic propel Swiss into Fed Cup semifinals
Swiss FedCup tennis team captain Heinz Günthardt takes selfie with (from left) Bencic, Bacsinszky, Viktorija Golubic and Hingis. Photo: DPA/AFP

Hingis and Bencic propel Swiss into Fed Cup semifinals
21 hours ago

Martina Hingis rolled back the years on Sunday as her doubles win alongside Belinda Bencic sealed a 3-2 victory over Germany to put Switzerland in the Fed Cup semifinals for the first time since 1998.

Gut and Janka bounce back with super-G victories
(From left) Germany's Rebensburg, former Austrian skier Nicole Hosp, Gut and Vonn pose for photo during the winners' ceremony for the super-G on Sunday. Photo: Christof Stache/AFP

Gut and Janka bounce back with super-G victories
23 hours ago

Swiss skiers Lara Gut and Carlo Janka bounced back on Sunday from earlier setbacks to claim Super-G victories in Germany and South Korea respectively.

Blatter 'will attend Fifa appeal hearing': lawyer
Blatter's hearing is scheduled 24 hours after that of fallen Uefa president Michel Platini. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Blatter 'will attend Fifa appeal hearing': lawyer
2 days ago

Suspended Fifa president Sepp Blatter will attend his February 16th appeal hearing against an eight-year ban from football, his spokesman confirmed on Friday.

UN panel calls for Assange to be freed
Photo: David G. Silvers

UN panel calls for Assange to be freed
3 days ago

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been arbitrarily detained by both Sweden and Britain, says a Geneva-based UN panel, which called on both countries to release him and pay him compensation.

Lausanne cathedral packed for top chef's funeral
Photo: Laurent Gillieron/Pool/AFP

Lausanne cathedral packed for top chef's funeral
3 days ago

More than 1,500 people filled Lausanne's cathedral on Friday for the funeral of Benoît Violier, the top French-Swiss chef who died in an apparent suicide.

Julius Bär bank to pay US $547 million over tax fraud
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Julius Bär bank to pay US $547 million over tax fraud
3 days ago

Swiss private bank Julius Bär says it has finalized an agreement with US authorities, paying $547 million to end a criminal investigation into claims that it helped rich Americans dodge taxes.

Sponsored Article
US taxes and FATCA: 'The time for hiding is over'
National
'World's best chef' commits suicide in village near Lausanne
Features
Zurich celebrates centennial of quirky Dada artistic movement
Education
Children in village school told to speak German or pay 'penalty'
Features
Swiss provide multiple resources to support 'sexy' startup trend
National
Swiss citizens to vote this summer on guaranteed income for all
Culture
Geneva authorities back art museum expansion with Jean Nouvel design
National
Luxury hotel conversion in Vevey runs into financial trouble
National
World Economic Forum: Davos soldiers test positive for cocaine use
Switzerland had secret 'peace deal' with PLO to prevent attacks
Technology
VIDEO: Drone takes you to the heart of a Swiss glacier
Business & Money
Leonardo DiCaprio in Davos slams 'greed' of fossil-fuel industry
National
Miniature scale model of city of Geneva goes on public display
International
Politician and ex-head of Swiss Post among dead in Burkina Faso attack
National
Revealed: Swiss authorities strip refugees of cash and valuables
National
Spectacular video of avalanche near Zermatt illustrates dangers
Business & Money
GE announces plans to slash 1,300 Swiss jobs at Alstom plants
Sport
Fifa museum set to open in Zurich next month as scandal continues
National
Is climate change ruining skiing at resorts in the Swiss Alps?
Culture
Bowie's discreet two decades in Switzerland remembered
National
Switzerland's unemployment rate surges to highest level in five years
National
'Excellent' Swiss wine touted for 2015 vintages despite lower production
National
Medieval Swiss lakeside town plans 'spectacular' festival of lights
Technology
Zurich and Lausanne institutes of technology launch 43 startups
4,428
jobs available