People with chemical sensitivities are like ‘human canaries’

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One in four Americans reports chemical sensitivity. Nearly half of this group has received a medical diagnosis of multiple chemical sensitivities, which refers to suffering health problems from exposure to common chemical products and pollutants such as insect spray, paint, cleaning supplies, fragrances, and petrochemical fumes, new research indicates.

Anne Steinemann, professor of civil engineering and chair of sustainable cities from the University of Melbourne School of Engineering, conducted the research, which appears in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Steinemann found the prevalence of chemical sensitivity has increased more than 200 percent and diagnosed MCS has increased more than 300 percent among American adults in the past decade. Across America, an estimated 55 million adults have chemical sensitivity or MCS.

“MCS is a serious and potentially disabling disease that is widespread and increasing in the US population,” Steinemann says.

The study used an online survey with a national random sample of 1,137 people, representative of age, gender, and region, from a large web-based panel held by Survey Sampling International.

The study found that, when exposed to problematic sources, people with MCS experience a range of adverse health effects, from migraines and dizziness to breathing difficulties and heart problems. For 76 percent of people, the severity of effects can be disabling.

“People with MCS are like human canaries. They react earlier and more severely to chemical pollutants, even at low levels,” Steinemann says.

The study also found that 71 percent of people with MCS are asthmatic, and 86.2 percent with MCS report health problems from fragranced consumer products, such as air fresheners, scented laundry products, cleaning supplies, fragranced candles, perfume, and personal care products.

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In addition, an estimated 22 million Americans with MCS have lost work days or a job in the past year due to illness from exposure to fragranced consumer products in the workplace.

To reduce health risks and costs, Steinemann recommends choosing products without any fragrance, and implementing fragrance-free policies in workplaces, health care facilities, schools, and other indoor environments.

Source: University of Melbourne