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Turning Tides: Managing Fragrances in the Workplace





MCS America

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.


For more information visit MCS America




Monday, May 24th, 2010:


Turning Tides: Managing Fragrances in the Workplace


by Lourdes Salvador

New research from Christy De Vader at Loyola University of Maryland suggests that fragrance is following the same trajectory in the workplace as smoking once did.

"It took decades for the workplace to acknowledge the dangers of smoking and to recognize the deadly effects of exposure to second-hand smoke, says De Vader, "Once acknowledged, it was a few more years before the workplace became safe for workers from the dangers of second hand smoke."

Now De Vader predicts that the deadly effect of fragrances will slowly become recognized in the workplace and the workplace will be made safe for workers in much the same way that it became safe from smoke. "At its core," she says, "both are battles over indoor air quality."

Fragrances contain many carcinogens and solvents which have been linked to asthma, migraines, allergies, and other health problems. It is estimated that 1 in 5 people is sensitive to fragrances and other chemicals, and experience mild to severe impairment when exposed.

Last year, the Centers´ for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) enacted a fragrance free workplace policy banning the use and application of scented products by employees in their facilities. Scented products include perfume, cologne, air fresheners, deodorants and lotions, magazines, candles, and cleaning products. Scent-free versions of these products are permitted.

The U.S. Census Bureau, Portland Police Department, and City of Detroit also have fragrance free workplace policies. The City of Detroit recently paid out $100,000 in a lawsuit settlement for failing to ban fragrances for employers, visitors, and vendors.

Studies have shown that perfumes and fragrances reduce testosterone in men and may be a danger to women´s health, particularly when pregnant. High urinary output of phthalates from fragrances is also a concern of scientists and may impair reproductive health.







There are hidden perfumes, scents, and fragrances in soaps, shampoos, deodorants, lotions, cleaners, laundry products, air fresheners, and many other products. These fragrances are not essential to the function of these products.

De Vader cites four categories of health effects from fragrance:

  • Respiratory
  • Neurological
  • Skin
  • Eye

Neurological impairment can not be remedied by any allergy medication and can easily become debilitating because it often involves mental confusion, known as "brain fog". The impairment is present when under toxic fragrance exposure in people with chemical sensitivity, and absent in conditions of good air quality.

There are significant concerns over the hidden chemical ingredients masked by the term "fragrance" on package labels. Under trade secret law, proprietary fragrance ingredients do not have to be disclosed. The fact that these chemical identities are unknown to the public and end user, has led the Toxic Substances Control Act to be challenged under the law.

Because as many as 1 in 5 are affected by sensitivity to fragrances, it is a large issue which can no longer be ignored. More and more lawsuits are being filed and employers are finding that they must enact fragrance free workplace policies.

"To date, most of the research on fragrance exposure has been localized in the health care profession and has not received the necessary attention it deserves in the management literature for managers to become knowledgeable about the extent of employer liability and what constitutes a good faith effort to protect workers," says De Vader.

In her report, De Vader makes recommendations for organizations who want to demonstrate a good faith effort and be proactive by addressing fragrance. She includes details on how to develop a fragrance–free workplace policy.

The Job Accommodations Network (JAN) is also a good resource for information on accommodating employees with fragrance sensitivity. They publish an Accommodation and Compliance Series entitled "Employees with Fragrance Sensitivity", which may be downloaded from:

To the benefit of the employer, a fragrance free workplace may improve worker productivity. It is only logical that reducing the distraction of respiratory, neurological, skin, and eye impairments would allow worker´s to focus more attention on their work.



De Vader, C. Fragrance in the workplace: what managers need to know. Journal of Management and Marketing Research. 2010

Just AC, Adibi JJ, Rundle AG, Calafat AM, Camann DE, Hauser R, Silva MJ, Whyatt RM. Urinary and air phthalate concentrations and self-reported use of personal care products among minority pregnant women in New York city. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2010 Mar 31. [Epub ahead of print]

Pan, G, Hanaoka, T, Yoshimura, M, Zhang, S, Wang, P, Tsukino, H, Inoue, K, Nakazawa, H, Tsugane S, and Takahashi, K.  Decreased Serum Free Testosterone in Workers Exposed to High Levels of Di-n-butyl Phthalate (DBP) and Di-2-ethylhexyl Phthalate (DEHP), A Cross-Sectional Study in China.  Environmental Health Perspectives.   doi:10.1289/ehp.9016 (available at Online 27 July 2006.

The National Academy of Sciences.  Phthalates and Cumulative Risk Assessment The Tasks Ahead. Report in Brief.  2008.






For more articles on this topic, see: MCSA News.


Copyrighted 2010 Lourdes Salvador & MCS America



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