A growing number of people suffer mild to serious health problems from exposures to common everyday chemicals found in our environment, and the even less understood phenomena of electrical sensitivity.  These chemicals are found in perfume, cologne, hair products, cosmetics, household cleaners, pesticides, car exhaust, cigarette smoke, many scented products, or air fresheners, to name a few.

Dr. Rea, a leading medical specialist in Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, indicates that it is an environmentally triggered disease acquired either by a one time acute exposure or from low-level long-term exposures. As the number of dangerous environmental pollutants increase, so does the number of people who are sensitive.1

The MCS Fact Sheet states that a person’s body is unable to cleanse its tissues of the chemicals it is exposed to through air, food, water or skin contact. Many systems in the body are affected especially the central nervous, immune, respiratory, musculoskeletal, endocrine, and digestive systems. Symptoms vary and may include headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, exhaustion, respiratory problems, aching joints and muscles, memory and concentration problems, irritated eyes, nose, ears, throat, skin, odour intolerance and sensitivity to bright light, sound and temperature extremes.2

According to The Medical Perspective on Environmental Sensitivities written by Dr. Meg Sears and commissioned by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, approximately 3% of Canadians have been diagnosed with environmental sensitivities and many more are somewhat sensitive to traces of chemical and/or electromagnetic phenomena.  Accommodating people with these environmental sensitivities involves many people, employers, co-workers, neighbours, family, friends etc.”Some of the most important accommodations involve behavior changes. These include the use of the least-toxic cleaning and pest control practices and avoidance of scented products.”3

Dr. Sears informs us that once a person has developed sensitivities, “Reactions may occur to a broader range of factors, at levels of exposure that were previously tolerated and that cause little difficulty to many others.”4  She stresses that the importance of early recognition, environmental control, avoidance of symptom-triggering agents, removal of toxins from the body and recovery of normal biological processes are key to regaining and maintaining health for people with sensitivities. However, these sensitivities will be life long.

Public policy, law and regulation are protecting people from some of the triggers like tobacco smoke, pesticides, fragrances and other chemicals in public places. Even the medical community is speaking up for broader policies and laws and recognizing this condition in medical education. No-smoking, scent-free, pesticide-free, no-idling and least-toxic cleaning policies in health care and other public places are increasing.5

It is important to note the Dr. Sears indicates that these environmental sensitivities generally arise from physiological causes. The most practical approach is to minimize potentially harmful exposures to the various triggers both in the workplace and home environment. “The comprehensive biopsychosocial model of medicine, treating the body, mind and environment is therefore the most appropriate and effective framework for treating environmental sensitivities.”6

1 – Rea, William, M.D. (1992) Chemical Sensitivities. CRC Press Inc.
2 – Multiple Chemical Sensitivity –MCS Fact Sheet
3 – Canadian Human Rights Commission Report Accommodating the environmentally sensitive protects everyone, Summer 2007, www.environmentalhealth.ca/summer07humanrights.html
4 – Environmental Sensitivities-Medical Issues Sears 2007
5 – Environmental Sensitivities-Medical Issues Sears 2007
6 – Environmental Sensitivities-Medical Issues Sears 2007