A student group at a California college are calling for a ban on perfumes and colognes on campus due to possible health effects.
People have generally seen synthetic fragrances in the form of perfumes and colognes as a good thing. There is a huge industry behind these products and a never ending stream of celebrities endorsing them and launching their own lines has helped them to become highly desirable. And let's be honest, who doesn't want to smell nice?
The fact that these fragrances are concocted from a vast array of highly volatile chemicals that could cause various unpleasant symptoms and lead to ill health never enters the minds of most who wear them.
This however is slowly changing as awareness grows of people having unpleasant reactions to such products and the growing number of people suffering from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).
Students are often at the forefront when it comes to awareness of issues and social change and that is the case here. A group of around 20 students from California State University, Stanislaus, is campaigning for a fragrance-free policy on campus. Kristin Oosterkamp, a psychology student, compared fragrances to secondhand smoke from cigarettes.
She told The Modesto Bee, "They're both so volatile, and both you have to breathe in if you are in close range."
This could certainly be a problem in crowded classrooms and lecture halls where personal space is minimal. For those adversely affected by synthetic fragrances there really is no escape.
Kristin says that when her group speaks to students about the issue, many are very receptive and wish to learn more. Stanislaus State student body President Andrew Janz however doesn't believe there would be much support for a blanket ban on campus.
Fragrance-free policies have been instituted at a number of universities and colleges including Portland State University, Cecil College in Maryland and the University of Calgary in Canada. Officials have said the policies are aimed at safeguarding students and staff suffering from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).
MCS is estimated to affect anywhere from 2% to 20% of the population in developed nations, depending on how it is defined. Those most severely affected become serious ill on exposure to minute amounts of volatile chemicals like synthetic chemicals. Symptoms often include dizzyness, disorientation, confusion, head and muscle aches, nausea, depression, and breathing difficulties. Many sufferers have to wear special masks containing a carbon filter or have an oxygen mask nearby to treat their symptoms. At the other end of the scale a relatively large proportion of people who are otherwise healthy report symptoms such as minor headaches and irritation to the eyes when around strong chemical fragrances.
MCS is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act but its existence is still hotly debated in medical and scientific circles.
The student group at Stanislaus State has teamed up with psychology professor Dawn Strongin to form a club, the Neurotoxicology Association. The association is aimed at educating students and building support for a fragrance ban. More information can be found at their MySpace page www.myspace.com/neurotoxassociation
Whatever the outcome of the students requests at Stanislaus State it is likely that fragrances will become a bigger issue in the future as recognition grows that these desirable products may not be so desirable after all.