Ely is a sweet little tourist town settled in the north woods next to the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness. People come here from all over the world to enjoy paddling on clean water while breathing in clean air. There’s no large industry here that emits pollutants into the air or water. My house is on the edge of town, away from the main traffic and hustle and bustle that comes along with a tourist town. My yard is landscaped with fruit trees, perennials, and flowering shrubs. I have a large screen porch off the back of the house that I like to sit in every morning with my first cup of tea. I regularly enjoy listening to, and watching, the birds who make their nests in my lilacs.

It was outside in my yard this allergy first flared up. Other than a bug I was convinced it could not be anything outside causing the issue. How could it? I believed the fresh breeze blowing through on a regular basis kept the air clean. As the summer continued so did the increase in my rash. Heat made it worse, but I couldn’t see anything else that played a role.

While outside I hear the drone of a motor in the distance. The sound was soothing because it mimicked the sound a tug boat moving a barge. I spent many weeks paddling the Mississippi river and the sound of a tug boat engine was a pleasant experience. Fall came and the mornings became too cool to sit outside so I closed up the house. I missed that sound.

About two weeks later I notice a significant improvement in my rash. I was trying so many things to make it better I had no idea what was really working. It was also about the time I got my diagnosis and immediately got anything with thiuram mix in it out of my life. One day I stepped out of the house and heard the sound I had so enjoyed and it occurred to me the source of that sound may be part of the issue. I was disheartened.

On the opposite corner of my block is a body shop. The sound I enjoyed all summer was the exhaust fans that ran while they painted a vehicle. Paint has thiuram mix in it. My enjoyment of the sound suddenly shattered. I doubted even thinking that could be the cause because no one else in my neighborhood has an issue like mine. I thought about talking to the body shop, but to what end? Perhaps there is something to be done with filters in their exhaust system, but I need to pick my battles. The body shop was there long before I was so I knew they were not about to move. When I bought the house I knew the body shop was there, but it never entered my mind it could possibly be an issue. Chemical contamination from something near my home was not even on the list of things to be concerned with. It is now!

Photo from The Library of Congress, Photo by Alfred T. Palmer

I can’t remember catching even a whiff of paint all summer, but that doesn’t mean its not it in the air. If that’s true then new questions loom for me. Can I stay in this house? Can I spend time out in my yard? In my screen porch? Is the soil contaminated after years of absorbing the pollutants in the air? The thought that the breeze blowing through my yard might be toxic is disturbing. With the chilly weather of northern Minnesota upon us there’s no way for me to know right now. Our homes in winter are pretty air tight.

This house dilemma is one that has to wait until spring. Even so, it brings to mind a cascade of questions I may have to deal with. If I do move how do I determine the potential threats in a neighborhood? Who do I ask? If there is an industry, how far away do I need to be? This is a small body shop – any large industry would have a much wider range of contamination. What if it was bigger?

In an effort to calm my mind and stop the images of having to move and upending my life in this house I brain stormed actions I could take to stay:
Keep the windows closed
Use an air conditioner
Don’t use the screen porch
Don’t do much yard work or gardening
Stay in the house when I am home
Get another air filter for inside the house
Get an air filter for the porch and sit right in front of the breeze that comes out of it

Wow, those ideas may have some merit, but none of them look like a recipe for enjoying my home in spring, summer or fall. The bottom line is this isn’t something I can do anything about right now. I don’t even know if it’s a real issue. So on the back burner it goes for the next four months.