Chemical Sensitivity: Complaining Can Be A Good Thing

Sept. 11, 2001
The first U.S. conference devoted to multiple chemical sensitivity, held earlier this month in Santa Fe, N.M., delivered a big boost to the effort to increase public awareness of the ailment.

The first U.S. conference devoted to multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), held earlier this month in Santa Fe, N.M., delivered a big boost to the effort to increase public awareness of the ailment.

MCS affects millions, although many people are unaware they have the condition, or that it even exists, according to John Wilson, president of the Chemical Injury Information Network, the group that organized the event. Lack of public awareness is perhaps the root of the MCS problem.

Defining MCS is problematic, because its effects are broad and varied. For those with chronic MCS, symptoms include asthma, sinus and respiratory problems, digestive disturbances, skin rashes, blood diseases, neurological disorders and brain damage. For those with chronic MCS, these symptoms can occur after only brief exposures to almost any chemical. For those with chronic MCS, regular employment is generally out of the question.

Multiple surveys indicate that 25 to 33 percent of the population has MCS, but those with chronic symptoms are a subset of this, with estimates varying between 4 and 15 percent of the general population.

"According to my practical experience, 80 percent of the chronic conditions stem from occupational exposures," said Dr. Grace Ziem, Ph.D., a specialist in occupational medicine with 34 years of experience who has a doctorate in public health from Harvard University.

It is usually repeated exposures to chemical hazards that trigger the chronic ailment, according to Ziem.

MCS is basically a permanent condition, so Ziem stressed prevention as the best medicine.

"Early warning signs of over-exposure are not taken seriously enough in this country," Ziem warned. "Those who are the most assertive and complain the most, end up being the least disabled."

Buildings with poor ventilation and bad indoor air quality are often the cause of the condition. Because working class people tend to be less assertive, Ziem believes they are more prone to the disease, which she termed, "a really horrible illness."

She advised industrial hygienists to make both workers and upper management aware that respiratory irritations can be early warning symptoms of MCS. If action is taken early, a permanent disability can be prevented.

by James Nash

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

Sponsored Recommendations

Free Webinar: ISO 45001 – A Commitment to Occupational Health, Safety & Personal Wellness

May 30, 2024
Secure a safer and more productive workplace using proven Management Systems ISO 45001 and ISO 45003.

ISO 45003 – Psychological Health and Safety at Work

May 30, 2024
ISO 45003 offers a comprehensive framework to expand your existing occupational health and safety program, helping you mitigate psychosocial risks and promote overall employee...

DH Pace, national door and dock provider, reduces TRIR and claims with EHS solution

May 29, 2024
Find out how DH Pace moved from paper/email/excel to an EHS platform, changing their culture. They reduced TRIR from 4.8 to 1.46 and improved their ability to bid on and win contracts...

Case Study: Improve TRIR from 4+ to 1 with EHS Solution and Safety Training

May 29, 2024
Safety training and EHS solutions improve TRIR for Complete Mechanical Services, leading to increased business. Moving incidents, training, and other EHS procedures into the digital...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of EHS Today, create an account today!