People Who Are ‘Allergic to Life’ Have Retreated to the Arizona Desert

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Snowflake, Arizona.
Snowflake, Arizona.Photo: The Guardian

Think your always-detoxing, completely-organic friend is dedicated to clean living? That’s nothing. Most of the residents of Snowflake, Arizona, say things like Wi-Fi, plastics, fragrances, and synthetic fabrics affect their health so they’ve moved to the desert town to avoid the problematic trappings of modern life.

The Guardian talked to several residents who say they have environmental illness or multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) — basically, pollution makes them feel sick, causing respiratory, gastrointestinal, and neurological symptoms. The walls of Susie Molloy’s house are covered in aluminum foil to block any scents that may come from the building materials. The reporters had to agree to wear Susie’s clothes in order to protect Deb, a woman who lives in a car in Susie’s driveway, who is particularly sensitive to scent.

Few medical professionals believe the controversial conditions are real and people like Susie and Deb struggle to find doctors who don’t think their problems are psychosomatic. Another stipulation of the reporters’ four-day visit? They could not consult psychiatrists for opinions on their condition.

Molloy found out about Snowflake through an environmental illness advocacy newsletter (which, coincidentally, she launched) and moved there in 1994. She and others have had more success working with integrative health practitioners. They’ve also found solidarity here. As Kathleen Hale writes:

Historically speaking, settlers’ reasons for uprooting typically establish the hierarchy of wherever they resettle. Puritans relocated for religious reasons, so the devout became popular. Forty-niners rushed in search of gold, and those that struck it gained status.

But people came to Snowflake to nurture disease, and so, here, illness acts like a social currency. Being “normies”— a mostly derogative term meaning that chemical fragrances and electricity didn’t (yet) cause us debilitating pain — not only dropped Mae and I into a category of people who had historically hurt, abandoned, and misdiagnosed everyone we were about to meet, it also ranked us as lepers.

Snowflake: where the rejected become the rejectors.