• Switzerland's news in English
 
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

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
Crash forces Cancellara out of Tour de France
Fabian Cancellera (in yellow) riding in third stage. Photo: Jeff Pachoud/AFP

Crash forces Cancellara out of Tour de France

Swiss cycling star Fabian Cancellara is abandoning this year’s Tour de France after being injured in a spectacular crash involving more than 30 riders during the third stage of the race, when he was wearing the yellow jersey as overall leader. READ  

Fifa corruption scandal
Fifa bans ex-World Cup bid inspection chief
Photo: AFP

Fifa bans ex-World Cup bid inspection chief

Football's world governing body Fifa on Monday banned the former head of their bid evaluation committee for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups for seven years for "confidentiality" breaches. READ  

Wimbledon 2015
Three Swiss stars advance to quarterfinals
Wawrinka took more than two hours to see off Goffin. Photo: AFP

Three Swiss stars advance to quarterfinals

Switzerland’s top two men's tennis stars Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka advanced to the Wimbledon’s quarterfinals on Monday, while Swiss Timea Bacsinszky qualified for the women's quarters at the All England Club for the first time. READ  

Two foreigners found dead in Zurich river
The Limmat River in Zurich is a popular place for swimming. Photo: Zurich Tourismus

Two foreigners found dead in Zurich river

UPDATED: City police found the bodies of two foreigners in the Limmat River in Zurich on Sunday, while two people drowned in the canton of Saint Gallen as a sweltering heatwave continued for a fifth day in much of Switzerland. READ  

Greece crisis
Swiss franc strengthens on Greek 'no' vote
Yes (Oxi) supporters celebrate outcome of vote. Photo: Louisa Goulimaki/AFP

Swiss franc strengthens on Greek 'no' vote

The euro immediately weakened against the Swiss franc and the US dollar on Sunday night after Greek voters resoundingly rejected financial bailout proposals made by creditors. READ  

Blast kills one at Swiss-owned Montenegro plant

One person was killed and seven others injured in a blast on Sunday at a Swiss-owned weapons factory in Montenegro, police said. READ  

Ultralight plane pilot dies in Swiss mountain crash
Le Moléson looms over the castle in Gruyères. Photo: Switzerland Tourism

Ultralight plane pilot dies in Swiss mountain crash

A 62-year-old man died on Sunday after crashing an ultra-light motorized (ULM) plane into Le Moléson mountain in the canton of Fribourg, just four days after such aircraft were authorized for use in Switzerland, police said. READ  

Moroccan journalist on hunger strike in Geneva
Ali Lmrabet Moroccan journalist in Geneva. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Moroccan journalist on hunger strike in Geneva

A Moroccan journalist on hunger strike in Geneva, who was previously jailed for insulting the Moroccan king and is now being denied a passport, was told Sunday to return home to plead his case. READ  

Greece crisis
Greece 'wants tax assets hidden in Swiss banks'
Photo: Leon Neal/AFP

Greece 'wants tax assets hidden in Swiss banks'

Athens wants a tax amnesty deal for Greeks who have stashed cash in Swiss banks, in a bid to bring much-needed revenue to the debt-laden country, a Swiss newspaper reported on Sunday. READ  

Wimbledon 2015
Federer through to the last 16 of Wimbledon
Federer on his way to victory over Groth. Photo: Tim Ireland/AFP

Federer through to the last 16 of Wimbledon

Seven-time champion Roger Federer defeated big-serving Australian Sam Groth to reach the Wimbledon last 16 on Saturday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
National weather office extends danger alerts as heatwave takes hold
National
Most severe heatwave in Switzerland since 2003 on the way
Travel
Bogglingly expensive Geneva club sandwiches remain 'priciest in world'
Politics
Anti-immigration nationalist party remains most popular: poll
National
Greek finance minister slams Swiss over lack of tax evasion info
Business & Money
Insects proposed for sale in Swiss supermarkets next year
Sponsored Article
Geneva's revolutionary marketing education
National
'Oh God — I'm coming': noisy lovers' complaint goes public
National
Canton of Ticino threatens closing Italy border to asylum seekers
Sponsored Article
Swiss chocolate with a story: Blondel
National
Just in case: Swiss National Bank prepares for Grexit 'crisis'
National
Russian crisis fuelled by sanctions threaten 40,000 Swiss jobs: study
National
Art Basel: Art for art's sake — or to make an investment?
National
New survey ranks Zurich Europe's priciest city for expatriates
National
Quarter of residents in Switzerland 'have multiple homes'
Features
Veggie lovers and 'flexitarians' challenge Swiss meat-eating habits
National
Forest officials struggle to save Switzerland's dying ash trees
Education
Historian finds ancient Egyptian papyrus texts in Basel uni library
National
Seven large Swiss employers back 'flexible work' charter
National
Basel police rescue of ducks forces closure of A2 motorway
National
Mother and daughter die as rain storms lash central Switzerland
Sport
'Stan the man' Wawrinka: French Open triumph 'completely crazy'
Culture
Expat's Zurich 'then and now' video shows how little the city has changed
National
Phoney Geneva police officers rob tourists and UN staff
Sport
Blatter's abrupt resignation seen as a 'stunning capitulation'
Features
Cleanup crews head to ski resorts to keep Swiss mountains tidy
Culture
Interlaken museum showcases works by Picasso using Caran d'Ache pencils
National
Low interest rates give tenants right to seek rent reductions in Switzerland
Sport
Switzerland's Blatter fends off critics to win fifth term as Fifa president
National
Agricultural researchers discover why Swiss cheese has holes
Culture
Swiss filmmaker returns home to shoot 'gender-fluid' film in Ticino
Features
Severed rope recalls Matterhorn's first ascent 150 years ago
National
Top Swiss court refuses to recognize child's two gay 'fathers'
National
Woman's scoop for Ticino online news site: 'I killed my husband'
National
Four Swiss bathing areas 'unfit' for swimmers: Euro environmental body
Technology
Scientists from Zurich university find craters beneath Lake Neuchâtel
National
Prince William in Switzerland backs fight to protect endangered species
National
Swiss Federal Railways rely on sheep to 'mow' grass alongside tracks
Sport
Switzerland to host 2020 international ice hockey tourney
Business & Money
I never learned German: departing Credit Suisse CEO's regret
Sport
International tennis museum in US showcases Federer hologram
National
Inequality greater than most Swiss think: opinion poll for unions
National
Shooting in Switzerland leaves five dead in domestic drama near Zurich
National
Swiss Federal Railways tackle taboo subject of suicide in bid to cut deaths
National
German expats in Switzerland face discrimination: report
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

4,375
jobs available