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Swiss building provides a refuge for hypersensitive

LEIMBACH, Switzerland -- No smoking, no perfume, no mobile phone use — the list of rules at a newly opened apartment building on the outskirts of Zurich is long.

For a reason: the structure has been purpose built for people who say exposure to everyday products like perfume, hand lotion or wireless devices make them so sick they cannot function.

“I have been suffering since I was a child. This will really move my life in another direction,” said Christian Schifferle, the 59-year-old head of the Healthy Life and Living Foundation (www.stiftung-glw.com), the prime driver behind the project.

Schifferle and the other residents suffer from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), a chronic condition not broadly recognized by the medical community. Those afflicted, however, believe it is sparked by low-level exposure to chemicals in things such as cigarette smoke, pesticides, scented products and paint fumes.

Twelve of the 15 apartments in the earth-colored building in a remote part of Leimbach, on the outskirts of Switzerland's largest city, have already been rented since it opened in December.

Many occupants also suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity, in which electrical circuits and radiation from wireless equipment make them equally ill.

“It makes me weak, anxious, I can't breath, my lungs hurt, and I get dizzy,” says Schifferle, who suffers from both conditions.

While living in the building will not cure Schifferle or others, it aims to make daily lives more comfortable for people whose conditions have often left them isolated and unable to hold jobs.

'Only half alive'

Schifferle, who first felt sick from the fumes in his parents' furniture factory when he was three or four, has lived most of his adult life in a trailer in the pristine Swiss Alps.

It was not until he was 35 and stumbled across an American book on MCS that he realized he was not alone, but it was another decade before he found a doctor who took him seriously.

“All my life it has been like I was only half alive,” he said.

The new building is the first of its kind in Europe, according to officials in Zurich who decided to play a pioneering role in helping people with what they called “a very harmful problem.”

They estimate about 5,000 people in Switzerland alone suffer from MCS.

The city made available the land and provided interest-free loans to help finance the 6.1-million Swiss-franc (US$6.9-million, 5.1-million-euro) project.

“We wanted to help these people to have a calm home where they hopefully will be less sick,” said Zurich housing office spokeswoman Lydia Trueb.

With a mask covering his nose and mouth, Schifferle proudly shows off the 0.0 reading on a handheld electricity-measuring instrument with a triangular, green antenna.

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A resident of the newly opened apartment building of Swiss Healthy Life and Living Foundation for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) patients sits in one of the apartments of the building in Leimbach, near Zurich, on Thursday, April, 3. (AFP)

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