• Switzerland edition
 
Swiss building provides refuge for the sensitive
Photo: AFP

Swiss building provides refuge for the sensitive

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

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
Geneva doctors dress for battle with Ebola virus
Health workers take part in pre-deployment training. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Geneva doctors dress for battle with Ebola virus

Sweating behind fogged-up goggles, Thanh Dang meticulously follows each instruction as she peals away layers of protective clothing, stopping repeatedly to wash her double-gloved hands in chlorine disinfectant. READ  

Former Coop Bank CEO faces three-year ban
FINMA found irregularities at the bank. Photo: Coop Bank

Former Coop Bank CEO faces three-year ban

The Swiss Financial Supervisory Authority (FINMA) has banned former Coop Bank CEO Andreas Waespi from any managerial role for three years after it was found he manipulated share prices at the bank. READ  

Federal law aims to ease Swiss rent rises
New tenants will now have the right to know the rent paid by their predecessors. Photo: Ruth Hartnup

Federal law aims to ease Swiss rent rises

Anyone taking on a new lease on a rental property in Switzerland will have the right to know what rent the landlord charged the previous tenants under new changes to the tenancy law. READ  

Weapons stockpile found in home near Interlaken
Police took two days to take an inventory of the weapons (not those pictured). Photo: AFP

Weapons stockpile found in home near Interlaken

Police have seized a stash of around 2,000 weapons and ammunition hoarded by a 68-year-old man in his Unterseen home, near Interlaken in the Bernese Oberland. READ  

Federer struggles to win opener at Paris Masters
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Federer struggles to win opener at Paris Masters

Switzerland’s Roger Federer struggled at times but finally prevailed in three sets in his opening match at the Paris Masters tennis tournament against hard-serving Frenchman Jérémy Chardy. READ  

Nestlé to 'employ' robot clerks in Japan stores
Photo: AFP

Nestlé to 'employ' robot clerks in Japan stores

Swiss-based food giant Nestlé says its Japan unit is hiring 1,000 robots as sales clerks at stores across the country. READ  

Lagging Swiss ease 'barriers' for business
Switzerland has made it easier to start a business by introducing online procedures, report says. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Lagging Swiss ease 'barriers' for business

Switzerland may be best in the world for competitiveness but when it comes to ease of starting a business the Alpine country lags behind 19 other countries — although it has improved over the past year, a new World Bank report says. READ  

Bern police track clues on 50 armed robbers
The Reithalle, seen here as it looked in 2003, is used by young people in Bern as a centre for alternative culture. Photo: Roland Zumbühl/Picswiss

Bern police track clues on 50 armed robbers

Bern police are seeking witnesses after a bizarre robbery involving 50 masked gunmen at an alternative culture centre in the Swiss capital at the weekend. READ  

Neuchâtel tech firm unveils white solar panel
Christophe Ballif, head of CSEM's solar panel team, and staff show off white panel. Photo: CSEM

Neuchâtel tech firm unveils white solar panel

A non-profit technology company based in Neuchâtel has unveiled what it describes as the first white solar panel in the world. READ  

Swiss Ebola vaccine trials cleared to start
Ebola poster in Liberia. Photo: AFP

Swiss Ebola vaccine trials cleared to start

Ebola vaccine trials are set to start in Switzerland this week after receiving the green light from the country's authorities, the Geneva-based World Health Organization said on Tuesday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Job candidates unhappy with hiring process in Switzerland
National
Glacier 3000 opens new foot bridge spanning two mountains in Vaud
National
Swiss seek special Unesco heritage listing for yodelling and watchmaking
International
Switzerland regarded as best place in world for expats: global survey
National
Red faces at Migros over Hitler and Mussolini coffee cream pots
National
Quarter of workers in Switzerland 'stressed out': new survey
Travel
Lonely Planet ranks Zermatt among top places to visit in 2015
National
Majority of Swiss back proposed new immigration curbs: poll
Features
Eritrean asylum seekers find refuge in Swiss monastery town
National
Expat American professor disputes 'unjust' Swiss citizenship rejection
National
Sputtering eurozone drags down Swiss economic growth forecast
Features
Swiss-based English expat writer lauds immigrant 'brains and brawn'
International
Our survey: Switzerland third priciest for food and drink from back home
National
Zurich market gardener sets world 'record' for heaviest pumpkin
National
Report: Switzerland's residents richer than before economic crash
Features
Geneva lab sleuths use high tech to help art world uncover fakes
National
Father of Scot missing since early September fears Swiss trauma
National
Foreign women give birth to rising share of newborns: latest figures
National
'Giant's penis' bloom in Basel uni botanical garden bigger than ever
National
Switzerland's voters reject public health insurance proposal
National
Zooming foreign immigration continues to boost Swiss population
National
Scientific study rings alarm over wellbeing of Swiss cows with bells
National
Geneva MP seeks ban on charging for tap water in restaurants
Business & Money
Switzerland's residents top world financial wealth list: Allianz report
National
Saint Maurice abbey in Valais celebrates 1,500 years of history
National
Streaming movie video service Netflix arrives in Switzerland
National
Professional Chilean base jumper dives to death in Swiss Alps
Education
ETH Zurich remains top university in Europe: QS world rankings
National
Switzerland's housing vacancy rate jumps: new federal figures
National
Swiss football club fires team masseuse over explicit sex video
National
Geneva police arrest easyJet passenger over hand luggage row
Business & Money
Latest forecasts for Swiss economic growth turn less bullish
Sport
Formula One legend Schumacher to continue treatment at Swiss home
National
Former federal planning official calls for nine Swiss cantons
Features
The Local gets the lowdown on mushroom picking in Switzerland
National
Virgin boss Richard Branson's son rescued from peak of Matterhorn
National
Swiss President Didier Burkhalter's commute turns Twitter sensation
Features
High-tech cameras give dizzy view of Eiger's north face (VIDEO)
Politics
Baden municipal council strips 'nude selfies mayor' of duties
Business & Money
Switzerland stays atop competitiveness table for sixth year
National
Federal parliament secretary agrees to step down over nude selfies
National
Swiss residents pick Swedes as ideal European soul mates: survey
National
Zurich officials call project to move prostitutes to 'sex boxes' a success
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

2,194
jobs available