Some people need to be hermits.

Every time her neighbors treat their lawns with standard chemical herbicides, Caryl Schonbrun fears for her life.

Ms. Schonbrun, 52, has multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome, which she says leaves her vulnerable to whiffs of substances that her system can no longer tolerate. She said that she was sensitive to ingredients in herbicides as well as pesticides, and that exposure to the chemicals could put her body into anaphylactic shock.

“It’s an illness that you have to depend on the kindness of neighbors and friends and hope for the best,” she said.

Well I suppose that would be fine, except that when her neighbors eventually got fed up she tried to force them into kindness at gunpoint.

But Ms. Schonbrun said she had found that was not enough and turned to lobbying the City Council, the mayor, the neighborhood mediator and anyone else she thought might be able to help.

Her goal was to get neighbors either to refrain from using such chemicals or to notify her before applying them.

Her condition and her campaign have left local officials and neighbors grappling with just how much responsibility they all have in coping with one woman’s ailment.

“It’s a pretty complicated situation,” said Diggs Brown, a Fort Collins councilman who has met with Ms. Schonbrun. “How do you balance the rights of one neighbor who is using legal chemicals on their lawn on private property and somebody who apparently has a chemical sensitivity?”

The article goes on to explain that even the existence of such extreme chemical sensitivities is "controversial" and that many doctors and scientists think the condition is entirely psychological. Even if the condition is real, Schonbrun apparently has enough money to take care of herself but still decided to move into an expanding residential neighborhood and impose her condition on her neighbors.

After her diagnosis six years ago, Ms. Schonbrun left her job as a nurse in San Diego and moved with her husband, Bob, to Tucson, where they stayed for a year. When she became even sicker, the couple moved to Fort Collins, a college town of about 130,000 with strong agrarian roots, to build a “safe” house with features that include an elaborate venting system and a tar-free roof to allow her to live as free of offending chemicals as possible. ...

Some people question the Schonbruns’ choice to relocate to their tidy and rapidly expanding subdivision with farms and ranches close by.

“With a condition like that, they choose to move into a residential area,” said Curt Richards, who lives across the street from the Schonbruns and said that the dispute had escalated to the point that he had obtained a restraining order against Mr. Schonbrun. “The bottom line is, we’re not breaking any laws. We have modified how we take care of our property that requires more of my time and money, but that’s not good enough.” ...

“It’s been said that people with this condition are the new homeless,” Ms. Schonbrun said. “We were lucky enough to build a nontoxic home, but it’s still a never-ending struggle to live in a safe all-around environment.”

Whether or not Schonbrun is crazy, she probably needs to isolate herself from the rest of society for her own safety.

(HT: My brother.)



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