Thursday, January 05, 2006

Two Safe Rooms in Chicago

Until yesterday I was not aware of a room in the United States--outside my apartment--in which I could stay with any reasonable confidence that I wouldn't be made sick by things in the air. I think there is an environmental medical unit in Canada used for patients with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, and maybe one in Japan. I suspect that some rare books and museum pieces in my country enjoy air quality of which I can only dream. I believe that inventors have created technology in nearby Silicone Valley that would dramatically improve my health; but it is squandered on insensible computer chips, which are not grateful, the little louses, for clean rooms with ten times better ventilation than I've ever known. Two days ago I thought that unless I renewed my passport my genuinely low-risk habitation alternatives were limited to my bedroom, my kitchen, and my bathroom. I can hardly talk about the fears raised by the possibility of hospitalization.

So, who do you think I discovered is a U.S. pioneer in healthy human environments? It's not anybody funded by the National Institutes of Health. (Sorry, but no surprise there.) It's Hilton Hotels. Yes, the revolutionary move has come from an industry generally hell bent on saturating their possessions and air space with chemical deodorizers. The managers have retro-fitted two rooms at the O'Hare Airport Hilton to cater to patrons with allergies and the like. (Press Release) There, in what has to be one of the world's worst concentrations of jet exhaust, they have boldly braved liability nightmares and announced that travelers can now book superior air quality with assurance. May Zeus, Thor, and all the gods of sky, wind, and air rain down blessings upon them.

I can't speak from first-hand knowledge to vouch for the folks at Hilton living up to their promises, but they sound as if they are in earnest. They continuously monitor levels not only of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, but of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They laid hardwood flooring. They clean with fragrance-free products and stock their bathrooms with them. With impressive attention to detail they even purchased wallpaper with perforations designed to prevent mold from growing under it.

My remaining doubts after reading the Hilton spec sheet focus on bedding, which can be the undoing of the most meticulous air quality scheme. With one king size bed the Hilton designers are facing not just one princess likely to detect a pea, but a steady stream of delicate royalty with their many and varied intolerances. Hilton has decided upon natural cotton bedding. Most people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities will be glad to hear it. I personally once had an unpleasant lesson on the allergenic properties of a particular type of cotton fiber that is often used in batting, cotton linters. Also, I've heard cotton production is particularly pesticide intensive, and the bedding isn't described as organic. Still, the publicists at Hilton have convinced me that the hotel knows what it's doing.

I can't say the O'Hare Airport is an appealing vacation destination, particularly in January, and the price is a little beyond my reach at $249 per night for a single occupant. However, I'm excited. I can fantasize about a trip not ruined by anxiety about accommodations. Hopefully the idea will spread--maybe one day even to my local hospital.


Anonymous said...

That's good to know. Never been to Chicago and I don't know when I'm going. I do like it, though, because it means that the industry is starting to think about it and perhaps when there are enough rooms like that, they will start to clean all rooms with unscented products and stock them with natural beds. I have a question, is it possible to remove pesticides from cotton - makes me wonder about clothing. I wonder if hemp is an alternative.
- Doug

The Masked Avenger said...


I had to think where I'd heard about pesticide use on cotton. It was from Jim Motavalli of He writes, "Mothers & Others For a Livable Planet reports that cotton is the world's most commercially important fiber, taking up 89 million acres in 70 countries. It's also the world's most heavily pesticide-sprayed field crop. Despite being planted on only three percent of the world's arable land, cotton accounts for an incredible 25 percent of global pesticide and herbicide use--about 350 million pounds a year." (

In another article Joel Gershon writes, "...according to the Sustainable Cotton Project, a third of a pound of pesticides, which contain known and suspected carcinogens, are used to make a simple cotton t-shirt. And a disproportionate 25 percent of all pesticides and fertilizers are used on cotton. Conventional wool comes from sheep that are plunged into a pool of pesticides, often containing organophosphates to kill lice and parasites. After the wool is sheared and scoured, pesticide residue in the sludge is prone to pollute waterways downstream from the farms and processing plants." ( article mentions hemp and other alternative fabrics.

This doesn't answer your question about washing pesticides out of cotton. Google searches suggest to me it is possible to wash out pesticides and other harmful chemicals used in making clothing, especially using hot water, but I'm not sure how completely. I found a detailed, fact-filled article on the production of conventional cotton fabrics with references to Multiple Chemical Sensitivities at the Lotus Organics website ( Clearly they are an interested party, but they seem to have done the research and do provide a number of specific references to less biased sources.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info. I didn't know it was so prevelant. The wool is also shocking, but it makes sense from a business perspective (although not a human health perspective).