Lourdes Salvador's Column
...Co-founder of MCS America discusses the latest Multiple Chemical Sensitivity issues.
Lourdes Salvador volunteers as a writer and social advocate for the recognition of multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). She was a passionate advocate for the homeless and worked with her local governor to provide services to the homeless through a new approach she created to end homelessness. That passion soon turned to advocacy and activism for people with MCS and the medical professionals who serve them. She co-founded MCS Awareness in 2005 and went on to found MCS America in 2006. She serves as a partner for Environmental Education Week, a partner for the Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE), and a supporter for the American Cancer Society: Campaign for Smokefree Air.
MCS Awareness Month - May 2008
by MCS America
Are you familiar with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS)? Chances are good that someone gave you this article to help you understand and accommodate their medical condition.
MCS is an environmental illness (EI) in which negative neurological, pulmonary, cardiac, and rheumatic health effects, among others, are experienced from exposure to common environmental chemicals, including fragrances, cleaners, pesticides, and petrochemicals at concentrations that are below regulatory toxicity thresholds normally deemed as safe.
The MCS diagnosis is based on the following six criteria:
1. The condition is chronic.
2. Symptoms recur reproducibly with repeated chemical exposure.
3. Symptoms recur in response to lower levels of chemicals than previously tolerated.
4. Symptoms appear in response to multiple chemically unrelated substances.
5. Symptoms improve or resolve when chemical incitants are removed.
6. Multiple organ systems are affected.
Approximately 15% of the population report chemical sensitivity and just under half of those experience life-altering affects that lead to disability. MCS affects all ages and both genders.
Products that people with MCS experience toxic reactions to include ANY quantity of exposures to pesticides, secondhand smoke, alcohol, fresh paint, scented products and perfumes, candles, fragrances, food preservatives, flavor enhancers, aerosols, tap water, cosmetics, personal care products, new carpets, petroleum products, formaldehyde, outdoor pollutants, newspaper ink, cleaning compounds, printing and office products, and other synthetically derived chemicals.
Some also react to natural products that are highly concentrated such as essential oils and natural orange cleaners due to the high volatile organic compound and pesticide concentrations.
Symptoms can range from minor annoyances, such as headache and nausea, to life-threatening respiratory distress. The most debilitating symptoms are neurological and include cognitive impairment, brain fog, and difficulty concentrating.
The main medical treatment for MCS is a home free of toxic chemical and strict avoidance of exposure to any and all of the chemicals mentioned above, as well as any products which contain them.
Below are the most commonly asked questions about MCS.
Can't you take allergy pills?
Sometimes the word allergy is used to describe MCS because it’s easier to understand. However, MCS is not an allergy or inappropriate response to a substance that can be treated with allergy medications.
Isn’t MCS just an everyday malady sufferers just make too much of?
No. In fact, MCS often leads to total disability. Sufferers experience functional impairments that can affect speech, concentration, and coordination. Some have reported seizures activity and life-threatening respiratory reactions. These effects are certainly not everyday maladies.
Aren’t people with MCS just antisocial?
No. People with MCS report feeling cut off from social activities. It’s the chemical and fragrance exposures that accompany people and events that cause illness, which can last for hours or days afterwards and must be avoided. Making reasonable accommodations through fragrance free activities helps make social encounters accessible.
Why do people with MCS want to control what I use and wear?
MCS is not about controlling what you use or wear, though the use of safer products is beneficial to you too. In fact, people with MCS suffer functional impairment from exposures that, in some cases, may cause irreversible damage. Their requests for accommodation in the shared environment allow them to participate much like a wheel chair ramp allows a paraplegic access to events. Neither accommodation is about “control”, but rather “accessibility”.
Do people with MCS dislike smells?
No. People with MCS have adverse health reactions to chemicals. Often chemicals are used to create smells, though chemicals without any discernable odor also produce reactions. There are as many as 5,000 fragrance chemicals and 95% of them are toxic petrochemicals.
Is MCS a conditioned response?
No. People with MCS are not conditioned to have symptoms, though they are often hyper vigilant when it comes to following the number one recommendation for treating MCS, which is avoiding all chemical exposure.
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