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Lots of Aussies say common chemicals make them sick

Almost one in five (18.9 percent) Australians report chemical sensitivity, and more than one-third of those (6.5 percent) have a medical diagnosis of Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, according to new research. MCS involves suffering health problems from exposure to common chemical products.

“Multiple Chemical Sensitivities is a serious disease that is often caused and worsened by exposure to petrochemical sources such as pesticides, solvents, new building materials, and fragranced items,” says Anne Steinemann, professor of civil engineering and chair of sustainable cities at the University of Melbourne.

“Even low-level exposure can inflict a range of adverse health effects such as migraines, breathing difficulties, cognitive impairment, seizures, and asthma attacks,” she says.

“Reducing your use and exposure to these products benefits not only your own and other people’s health, but also the environment…”

Using an online survey with a national random sample of 1,098 people, the study found MCS is widespread in the Australian population, affecting an estimated one million adults nationwide, with chemical sensitivity affecting a further two million.

The study also found 74.6 percent of people with MCS are asthmatic and 91.5 percent with MCS report health problems from fragranced products, such as air fresheners and deodorizers, laundry products, candles, cleaning supplies, and personal care products.

For 55.4 percent of people with MCS, the severity of these health problems can be disabling. In addition, 52.1 percent of Australians with MCS lost work days or a job in the past year due to illness from fragranced products in the workplace.

The results mirror Steinemann’s earlier research in the United States that found one in four Americans suffer from chemical sensitivity, prompting calls to reduce exposures to everyday chemical pollutants.

People with chemical sensitivities are like ‘human canaries’

“While Australia is not yet at the same levels as the US, it appears we’re on the same pollution path,” Steinemann says.

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

“The products that are problematic for people with MCS are also major sources of air pollutants. Reducing your use and exposure to these products benefits not only your own and other people’s health, but also the environment,” she says.

The study appears in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports.

Source: University of Melbourne

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