Named in the 1870s after Mormon pioneers Erastus Snow and William Jordan Flake, the small town of Snowflake, Ariz., has become not just an etymological contradiction but, more recently, something of a safe haven for people afflicted with what they call "environmental illness." Residents on the outskirts of town—about 25 households—say they are allergic to everything from electromagnetic radiation and pesticides to laundry detergent and synthetic fabrics. In an in-depth profile, the Guardian explores not just how these people manage to live in the world today but how they think they came to be so sensitive to the modern environment. Like Susie Molloy, who's lived here since the 1990s and serves as a sort of liaison between the afflicted and fascinated visitors, many are former engineers and chemists. Molloy says she gets calls from people every week looking for a place that won't aggravate their affliction, reports 99% Invisible.
The rest of Snowflake's 5,000 or so residents have had 20 years to adjust to the community that likes to keep to itself. A dentist, real estate agent, and grocer all work with those with environmental sensitivities, including shopping for them and leaving the goods outside so no one has to enter the store. Voices in Bioethics reports that the population is a uniquely isolated one in that its sufferers tend to avoid large and populated areas, and thus they tend to advocate for themselves less: "Cases such as this create impetus to ask what classifies as a disability, why it is a disability, and what should be done, if anything, to change this mentality." One resident, a former engineer, admits that while he won't stop trying to get through each day, "I'll be relieved when this is all over." (A French woman gets $900 a month in disability for WiFi sensitivity.)