• Switzerland's news in English
 
app_header_v3
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
Foreigners in Switzerland surpass 2 million mark
International flags outside the UN in Geneva. Photo: Martial Trezzini/AFP

For the first time, there are now more than two million foreigners living in Switzerland.

Geneva runs out of permits for non-EU workers
File photo: The Local

Canton complains to the federal government after it reduced the number of permits available to third state workers.

Scorchio! Late August heat breaks record in Geneva
Lake Geneva on Thursday. Photo: The Local

The mercury in Geneva hit 33.3 degrees, a record for the final week in August.

US and Russia meet in Geneva for Syria talks
John Kerry with UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva on Thursday for a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

Expert predicts major quake for Switzerland by 2040
A fireman stands in the Italian village of Amatrice, which was badly hit by this week's earthquake. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The canton of Valais is particularly at risk.

Aggressive deer put down after attacking four in Geneva
File photo: Michal Kosacky

The buck attacked four people in the same area over the course of 48 hours.

Navigation error ends badly for Basel driver

A man accidentally drove his car down a flight of steps after his passenger directed him the wrong way.

Blatter 'confident' as he faces Swiss sports court
Sepp Blatter. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Former Fifa boss Sepp Blatter is back in court on Thursday as he seeks to overturn a six-year ban from football.

Federer teams up with Nadal for new tennis tournament
Federer and Nadal at the Laver Cup launch with Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. Photo: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images North America/AFP

The duo will play doubles together in a new competition pitting Europe against the rest of the world in a tennis team event.

Geneva advises teachers on religion in school
File photo: C Carlstead

The secular canton of Geneva has issued guidelines for teachers on how to deal with religious issues in the classroom.

Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Photo: Starship
Technology
Swiss Post trials robot parcel deliveries in Bern
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Photo: AFP
Politics
Survey: Swiss optimistic about Brexit effect
Photo: Neil Heritage/Endeavour Fund
Features
Amputee's Matterhorn trek 'makes it more possible' for others
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Photo: EPFL
International
Switzerland tops global innovation table – again
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Photo: Vasily Cotovanu
National
Asylum centre plans shelved after Swiss village protests
Photo: The Local
Politics
Neuchâtel looks to boost rights for foreigners
Photo: AFP
Sport
In pictures: final day success takes Swiss to seven medals
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Photo: AFP
National
Experts debate rail security following Swiss train attack
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
File photo: AFP
Sport
Two basejumpers die in Lauterbrunnen accidents
Photo: AFP
International
Amnesty fears for child migrants at Italian border
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
Photo: AXA Winterthur
National
Report: Geneva is Swiss capital of car theft
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Photo: Dani Pozo/AFP
National
Top tips for watching the meteor shower in Switzerland
File photo: Andrew Turner
Technology
Swiss start-up to offer drone service to farmers
Photo: Beat Strasser
National
British quadruple amputee summits Matterhorn
Photo: Judit Klein
National
Switzerland sees rise in child victims of forced marriage
Photo: Michael Schlick/OS Muhr
National
Swiss hiker in Austria rescued after sending SOS to America
Photo: Chris Murphy
Features
14 mistakes foreigners make on moving to Switzerland
Photo: AFP
Lifestyle
Swiss resort unveils huge ‘natural’ fresco on mountain
Photo: C Sonderegger/Swiss Tourism
National
Five great Swiss traditions all expats should try
Photo: AFP
National
Confirmed cases of Zika virus soar in Switzerland
Photo: eGuide Travel
National
Prison for woman who faked Swiss airport bomb threat
Photo: AFP
Technology
Swiss solar plane completes epic round-the-world trip
4,663
jobs available