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Allergic to the 21st century
Monday 19 August 2013
From Tasmanian newspaper The Mercury:
Allergic to the 21st century
JODY Watkins is allergic to the 21st century.
Crippled by a condition known as multiple chemical sensitivity, the 38-year-old's life has been made a misery by exposure to everyday household products most people take for granted.
Ms Watkins says formaldehyde-based products like paints, glues, but also perfumes, deodorants and even shampoos affect her health to the point that she opted to live in a tent for five years rather than endure the physical and mental torment of living in a modern home.
Unable to be near mobile phones or Wi-Fi networks, and battling chronic fatigue syndrome, Ms Watkins finally found a chemical-free refuge in a self-built dwelling at Garden Island Creek, near Cygnet, two years ago.
But just as she began to regain her strength within the tranquil sanctuary, and with her house still not fully built, Ms Watkins received news that has again left her contemplating homelessness.
NBN Co, which is fast rolling high-speed broadband across the nation, plans to construct a 40m tower just a few hundred metres from her raw-timber home.
And despite offering NBN a number of alternative sites nearby that would not impact on her health, Ms Watkins said the broadband giant refused to budge.
"I'm now just a sitting duck," Ms Watkins said.
"I've spent so much money, time and energy getting this house to where it is that I could never do it again.
"And fighting the NBN tower has taken all the rest of my energy.
"I fear the effect on my health will be so serious that I will end up homeless again."
Ms Watkins said she was not opposed to the NBN or its accompanying infrastructure being built in the Garden Island Creek area.
But she said the site's approved location, at 5886 Channel Highway and just 300m from her front door, could force her out of the only place she has ever felt safe, and said her discussions with NBN had been "like talking to a brick wall".
"I moved here because of the block's huge bush buffer and very low risk of exposure to chemicals," Ms Watkins said.
"I've never been able to get near mobile phones. And I've more recently discovered I'm intolerant to Wi-Fi as well."
An NBN Co spokesman confirmed the company had been granted planning approval for the tower by Huon Valley Council, following what he described as "a rigorous planning assessment process", including review by the Resource Management and Planning Appeals Tribunal.
But the spokesman said that because national safety regulations placed a limit on the strength of the signal (or radio frequency EME) NBN Co antenna towers could transmit, no general public distance-based restrictions were deemed necessary.
"That is why radio communications facilities are permissible in any environment," the spokesman said.
"Australia has adopted the safety regulations recommended by the World Health Organisation. These regulations have a significant safety margin, or precautionary approach, built into them.
"A report was submitted as part of the planning application and shows that the maximum cumulative EME level will be 2631 times below minimum standard."
The spokesman said that the NBN would bring increased access to public health and education services over high-definition video links, and that better internet access would open up opportunities for local farms, businesses and the regional economy.
But Ms Watkins said her extreme sensitivity means that she will be forced out by the NBN Co's tower and she doesn't know where she will end up, given the substantial cost of any move.
"It's cruel, because a house like this just isn't found at the bottom of a cornflake box," she said. "My concern is that I'll have to leave here and have nowhere to go. I have no options open to me."
"I planned this house to build my health back up, and to get back to nature. And emissions like the ones from this tower are the first thing that I want to avoid."
The above originally appeared here.
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