After I graduated, my next training was in Environmental Medicine with the Australian Society of Environmental Medicine (ASEM) from 1985. I was working in a rural area on the Central Coast, and was repeatedly seeing farmers who should have been in excellent health suffering from persistent inflammatory and neurological conditions for which there was no clear explanation.
What tied these cases together was the use of a class of pesticides known as organochlorine insecticides, such as dieldrin, heptachlor, chlordane and DDT. Some colleagues and I got together in the late 80s to visit America and see Dr Rea's Dallas clinic and John Lasseter's laboratory, AccuChem. We were so impressed that on returning to Australia we established what we believe was Australia's first inpatient controlled-environment hospital unit in Sydney, the Special Environment Allergy Clinic (SEAC).
This Clinic opened its doors in 1989 and closed in 1994. During this time we saw and treated over 300 inpatients with a combination of chronic fatigue syndrome and chemical sensitivity or chemical toxicity. We carried out clinical research which was published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 1995, identifying significantly higher levels of organochlorine pesticides in CFS subjects compared to controls.
The high proportion of agricultural workers, especially farmers, admitted to our clinic (before it was closed down under political pressure in 1994) seemed to confirm our suspicion that exposure to such pesticides was harmful despite the toxicological literature suggesting otherwise. Of course, we now know the impact of those pesticides on the bacteria in our gut and in epigenetic expression, and there is now general consensus that the type of harm that we described in 1995 as a result of pesticide exposure is most likely true and causative in nature.
What is absolutely clear is that humans depend for health upon a rich diverse external environment devoid of poisons and rich in nature. We depend on that environment for our breath, for the water we drink and for the food we eat. The contamination of our planet and the destruction of biodiversity weakens and impairs us. It makes us susceptible to illnesses that we have not previously encountered.
Protecting and cleaning up the environment that we have contaminated starts in the home, the school and the workplace, and spreads out from there to our back yards, our community, our parks, our beaches, and ultimately to the planet.
Healthy, vibrant and natural surrounds, nature's noise and perfumes, the wind brushing our skin and sunlight waking us in the mornings to the marvellous beauty of our planet – this is the environment we were born for, the environment that sustains us and our health, and the cycle of life that shepherds us through our days and nights, and from birth to our eventual death.
Rebuilding our relationship with nature can be really difficult, but small steps go a long way, and allow us to rediscover the healing magic can come from this sacred communion.