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Get to know: Peter Sullivan '86, blazing a new path

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November 27, 2017

Peter Sullivan talks to a group of students.

Peter Sullivan ’86 forged a career in software design in the early days of the dot-com industry. His bachelor’s degree in psychology from University of Detroit and master’s in computer science from Stanford put him on the forefront in the field of human/computer interaction in Silicon Valley.

But while making a name for himself at some of the companies whose names are synonymous with the rise of the Internet, life intervened, putting him on a new path that puts him sometimes at odds with the industry he helped build.

Sullivan spoke at the Institute for Leadership & Service’s Leadership Slam last week, sharing his story with students, who were eager to hear about his journey from software designer to environmental activist.

This second career started when Sullivan and his wife, Stacy, were told their oldest son was acting out at preschool. School officials thought his antisocial behavior might be autism, and the Sullivans took him to doctors who diagnosed him with a sensory processing disorder, which is a common symptom of autism. At the same time, Sullivan was suffering from fatigue and other ailments and no one could quite pinpoint the cause.

After a battery tests, doctors discovered Sullivan’s sons and wife had high levels of toxic heavy metals. Sullivan himself had high levels of mercury in his bloodstream. They underwent chelation, a risky procedure that removes heavy metals from the blood, and made lifestyle changes to try to limit exposure to heavy metals. The source of the poisoning has never been concretely determined, though Sullivan believes his mercury poisoning may have stemmed from fillings in his teeth.

Always one to look for ways to fix problems, Sullivan focused less on his career in Silicon Valley and turned his attention to finding a simple test to detect toxins in the human body. That led him to looking for ways to clean toxins from the environment.
But while lifestyle changes and therapies addressed some of his sons’ issues, and removed the mercury from his system, Sullivan was getting worse and doctors couldn’t determine why. He lost weight and, at 130 pounds, described himself as skeletal. He couldn’t sleep and his teeth were so weakened they cracked.

Sullivan began doing something called “bio-hacking,” to try to alleviate his symptoms. Bio-hacking is a movement to measure your own health data and make changes to improve it. 

He left Netflix in 2005 while he was finishing up detoxing from mercury, but he still noticed a decline in his health until summer 2009. He started to feel symptoms of EMF exposure around 2006, although he says now it was clear he was impacted years before.

I started to realize that I would get shaky after being on a cell phone for a while," he said. After researching EMFs, he put up shields around electrical conduits in his office and slowly, over years, minimized wireless device use.  He went further, EMF-proofing his home, installing a way for him to completely turn off the electricity to his bedroom so he can sleep at night.

He formed Clear Light Ventures in 2007 to fund research and development of a screening tool for heavy metals. In recent years, he added EMFs and detoxification; his mission says the organization funds research to “improve human health and performance by removing widespread environmental threats.”

But it isn’t easy. He runs into skeptics all the time, and he says the wireless industry fights research into EMFs, and discredits those who find they can have detrimental health effects.

“What really blows my mind is that new technologies are being put out into the marketplace without any testing, and we bring these things into our homes,” Sullivan said. “It’s almost like it’s someone else’s job to determine whether there might be a danger to the public.”

The problem is compounded by technology companies that have vast wealth to draw from to silence critics.

“They are using the same tactics big tobacco did in the ’50s when research showed smoking could lead to cancer,” he said. “They call into question the research and the people doing the research instead of doing the right things now so it doesn’t become a major health issue later.”

His goal with Clear Light Ventures is to end what he calls “the autism epidemic.”

"There are a wide range of factors associated with an increased risk of autism," he says. "The two factors in the environment that are rising the most and many doctors and researchers are concerned about are glyphosate (the main ingredient in the weedkiller Roundup, used extensively on crops grown in the United States) and wireless. Those factors are suspect not only in autism, but in over 40 other rising chronic health conditions." Clear Light Ventures also funds research into the health effects of EMF exposure.  

“What we’re learning is that you go to the doctor for one issue and find out it’s really many things working together that are affecting your health,” he said. “We are still figuring out our bodies and need to look at our place in the environment to begin to heal, because what we are currently doing isn’t working.”

Clear Light Ventures can be found on the Internet at clearlightventures.com.

The Campaign for University of Detroit Mercy is raising funds to ensure students benefit from programming like the Leadership Slam. Please consider making a gift toward the $100-million goal online (www.udmercy.edu/donate)or by calling 313-993-1250. Gifts of any size can make a major difference.

— By Ronald Bernas. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.

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