Multiple Chemical Sensitivity


By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

May is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) awareness month. Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is a disability in which people have multi-system illnesses as a result of contact with or proximity to substances or airborne chemicals (EPA). MCS is a chronic condition. Many people who have MCS lived or worked in areas where they were exposed to pesticides, smoke, fumes, or other pollutants. Substances that affect people with MCS include those listed above and perfumes and scented products, candles, food preservatives, aerosols, personal care products, paint, new carpets, formaldehyde and things that off gas formaldehyde like laminate floors, newspaper ink, cleaning compounds, printing and office products. Symptoms can range from headache and runny nose to fatigue, migraine, breathing difficulties, nausea, skin problems, and pain, to life-threatening reactions like seizures and anaphylaxis (MCS America).

Because chemicals, especially chemical fragrances, are so common in everyday life, people with MCS are at severe risk of not being able to access housing, employment, or meeting basic needs like shopping or participating in the community.  Many people with MCS are unemployed and some cannot leave their homes. Others’ homes are making them sick but locating housing that is free of toxic chemicals is very complicated. Additionally, a person may find that initially a home worked for them, only to develop reactivity to chemicals in that environment later.

The MCS Friends is an organization we at MDRC have partnered with in the past, looking at options for addressing housing issues. Their website has a variety of resources and ways of connecting to peer support groups. They also have a Facebook page.

I found some basic tips on accommodations and assistive technology (AT) options for the home and the workplace on the MCS America website and the Job Accommodation Network website:

  • Adopt a fragrance free policy in your home and workplace
  • Masks and respirators may work as AT for people with MCS to get out into the community
  • Live and work in places with working windows
  • Use good quality ventilation systems with HEPA filters and well-maintained ducts
  • Test the indoor air quality for dust, mold, mildew, and volatile organic compounds
  • Check the National Air Filtration Association for a local referral for air purification systems that are building-wide or at individual work stations
  • Notify people of plans to apply pesticides, paint, shampoo the carpet, or wax the floor so they may make alternative work arrangements
  • Use non-toxic materials and cleaning products
  • Use e-mail and telephone to communicate with people who choose to use fragrances
  • Build with non-toxic, chemical-free products
  • Consider organic clothing, bedding, cleaning products, and food

Do you or someone you know have MCS? What AT or accommodations are most helpful to you?


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