A Minnesota lawmaker is making efforts to ensure that health concerns related to perfumes and other fragranced products are recognized and that educational institutions adopt policies to protect the health of students.
The campaign is being promoted by Democrat rep. Karen Clark who wishes to introduce a bill that would require both staff and students at all state schools and colleges to be made aware of the hazards associated with wearing fragrances. The aim of the bill is to protect those who are particularly sensitive to fragrances such as those with respiratory and allergic conditions such as asthma as well as those suffering from multiple chemical sensitivity.
Rep. Clark had previously tried to go further with a bill that would have seen a blanket ban on fragrances in schools. Fragrance bans such as this are being introduced voluntarily by a growing number of educational institutions in the US and Canada. These include Portland State University, Cecil College in Maryland and the University of Calgary in Canada. These bans are often implemented after students make officials aware of how detrimental fragrances are to the health of those who react to them, particularly in an enclosed classroom environment.
Student led efforts to control fragrances are also underway at other colleges and universities. Last October we reported on such a campaign by a group of students at California State University, Stanislaus.
In Minnesota, a number of education officials have spoken out against attempts to push through legal bans on fragrances and called for a more common sense approach. Local newspaper LaCrosse Tribune reported that one school superintendent said that the issue never seemed to have got to the point where students were making enough complaints for a policy on fragrances to be required.
Presumably officials will be more happy with the new proposals which only require awareness of the issue to be promoted and common sense policies followed when students are made ill by their classmates wearing fragrances.
Whatever lawmakers decide in Minnesota the fact that such legislation is even being discussed is further evidence of an increasing awareness of the potential dangers from synthetic fragrances and of multiple chemical sensitivity and environmental illness.
Multiple chemical sensitivity is a growing problem throughout the world. Research published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2004 found that 12.6% of the population in the South Eastern United States are sensitive to fragrances and other volatile chemicals to some degree. Research carried out by the California Department of Health Services found that prevalence of multiple chemical sensitivity in that state was 15.9%.
It is no wonder that the issue is now coming to the attention of politicians and public authorities. Multiple chemical sensitivity is now recognized by the Americans with Disabilities act, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), US Housing and Urban Development, and a growing list of other agencies. May is promoted as MCS Awareness Month by The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Health Observance Calendar. State Governors have vowed to recognize the awareness month by signing their own proclamations.
All of this will undoubtedly be welcomed by MCS patients and others adversely affected by fragrances. It is to be hoped that increased awareness will translate into regulations on fragrance products and common sense policies on the wearing of fragrances that protect the health of the most vulnerable without impinging too strongly on individual choice.