Mould allergies drive some to live in tents
Helsinki ponders housing solutions for those suffering from mould allergies
By Jarkko Hakala
A tent and a bed on the bottom, storage containers for clothing, and a few personal items: these are almost the only personal items that Helsinki resident Katja Pulkkinen has. She lives year-round in a tent because of the allergy symptoms that she gets from mould and chemicals almost anyplace indoors.
A few seriously afflicted Helsinki residents live in small tents at the Rastila campground. Many others try to get by in apartments, or on balconies.
The City of Helsinki is trying to figure out a way to help those who are oversensitive to moulds. It has set up a working group and has ordered a study form the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT).
Those affected by the problems are pleased that the city is taking the matter seriously. Pulkkinen has gone through all levels of city officialdom. She also chairs an officially registered association of “mould refugees”.
“This is the first time that our pleas for help met with some kind of response”, she says.
Even a small amount of mould spores in the air can cause disabling pain, numbness, and bleeding of the mouth for Pulkkinen.
“I have spent three years on a balcony, out of doors, or really suffering in while experimenting with different types of housing indoors.”
Behind her she has hundreds of visits to prospective apartments, as well as numerous rental apartments. She has not been able to stay in any of them.
Pulkkinen was exposed to mould already at school and while studying, but the symptoms really surged a few years ago when she lived in a fungus-ridden row house in Inari.
Another victim of mould, Ari Koponen, had to give up his home and his job after the onset of the disease. In May he finally moved into a tent. Koponen has tried to live in several apartments, at a cottage, and with friends.
Koponen feels that society should admit to the existence of this new disease, and at least try to find a treatment for it, instead of focusing on studying asthma and pulmonary diseases.
“I am a middle-aged man. I have worked for a long time, and raised two children to adulthood. I have done my share as have many others of my age. Now I am waiting for society to show some reciprocity.”
Some light has appeared at the end of the tunnel. The City of Helsinki has started offering those who are seriously afflicted monetary assistance for buying tents, for instance.
The assistance is needed. Just keeping a tent in a campground costs EUR 600 a month.
Pulkkinen estimates that thousands or tens of thousands of Finns suffer from mould or chemical allergies.
“Already about 200 people like us who have taken ill in a way that causes us disabilities have asked our association for emergency housing.”
The very existence of the disease has been disputed and its origins are not well known. In Finland it has no diagnosis number. Pulkkinen says that such a number exists in Germany, Austria, and Japan.
The possibility for a diagnosis can affect access to health insurance compensation.
The mould refugees attribute the problem to construction methods, and to chemicals which make the dampness microbes produce toxins which wreak havoc on the system.
They emphasise that the symptoms are neurological with increasing frequency. This means that they do not manifest themselves as asthma or pulmonary diseases.
At times the symptoms have been seen as psychological, that the sufferers dispute.
“This is how they deprive us of the right to be sick”, Pulkkinen says.
“Doctors don’t know how to help because their training does not include even the most basic knowledge of the subject.”
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 5.6.2012
JARKKO HAKALA / Helsingin Sanomat