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What is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and Environmental Illness (EI)?

multiple chemical sensitivities mcs environmental illness ei

by Pamela Rice Hahn

What is Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS)?

Whether you call it Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS), Environmental Illness (EI), 20th century disease, Total Allergy Syndrome, Idiopathic Environmental Illness, or Chemical AIDS, or if you suffer chemical sensitivities along with the devastation of Gulf War Illness (GWI), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), or Fibromyalgia (FMS), those who share my diagnoses are allergic or overly sensitive to many substances most of the world takes for granted.

The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine‘s Position and Policies on Multiple Chemical Sensitivities: Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance states that the condition is referred to by more than 20 different names, which in itself is a challenge. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the “terms refer to complaints of patients who report recurrent non-specific symptoms referable to multiple organ systems that the sufferers believe are provoked by exposure to low-levels of chemical, biological, or physical agents” and that “no consistent physical findings or laboratory abnormalities have yet been found to differentiate MCS patients from the remainder of the population.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) is a highly controversial issue” because not everyone accepts that adverse reactions to chemicals “is classifiable as an illness.”

Chemicals are everywhere! In her photo essay No Safe Haven, Rhonda Zwillinger reports that between 1940 and 1980, the production of synthetic organic chemicals increased from less than 10 billion pounds per year to more than 350 billion. (Those figures are much higher than that now; while the United States and most European countries have improved emission standards since that time, the additives used to comply with new environmental regulations often cause problems for those with chemical sensitivities, which makes any exhaust fumes that much more problematic. It’s impossible to do away with all such emissions or exhaust in modern society. Therein lies the problem….)

Chemicals are not always a bad thing. Chemicals have improved the quality of life for many because of the resulting increased food production and improved sanitary conditions. However, for a growing segment of the population — 2% with severe symptoms and as many as 20% with some sensitivity, chemicals in their various forms (preservatives, insecticides, perfumes, etc.) moderately to drastically decrease the quality of life.

Because of sensitivities to synthetic scents and/or preservatives, some perfumes often smell like insecticide to someone with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. Perfumes and other chemical agents can trigger the auras that precede a migraine, cause laryngitis, or cause vomiting. Even something as commonly used as chlorine in tap water can cause skin irritation or swollen ankles following every shower, not to mention increased dizziness while in the shower. Forget about drinking the stuff! Contending with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity means that food that others take for granted might trigger a reaction (hives, boils, or a rash or digestive problems) because of a problem preservative, additive, nitrites and nitrates in meats, or artificial flavoring

In the meantime, please take the time to look over the informative links I’ve compiled for this page. Knowledge is power!

Revision Copyright © 2010 Blue Rose Bouquet Group, LLC
All Rights Reserved

Multiple Chemical Sensitivities Personal Stories

The bullet points directly below are to individual articles:

The Chemical Injury Information Network (CIIN) is a tax-exempt, non-profit, charitable support and advocacy organization run by the chemically injured for the benefit of the chemically injured.

MCS Referrals & Resources

PHOENIX RISING: Living with Chemical Injury


Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)
More than 1 MILLION Material Safety Data Sheets (350,000 from 1300 manufacturers; 700,000 from public access databases); links to MSDS software, service, training and product providers; links to Government MSDS information; and an MSDS knowledge base where you can ask questions.

American Academy of Environmental Medicine
Environmental Medicine is the comprehensive, proactive and preventive strategic approach to medical care dedicated to the evaluation, management, and prevention of the adverse consequences resulting from Environmentally Triggered Illnesses. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine is a group of clinicians from various specialties banded together in the 1965 and formed a medical society.

A wonderful resource site!!!

Jury Awards $10.6 million to Victim of Perfume Exposure

Annie Berthold-Bond’s how-to site for less toxic living

Links to the Merck Manual, Medical Dictionaries, and other useful information.

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pammy the pencil a character in the Writing Woes comic strip and the Chronic Illness Realities Comic StripPammy is the main character in two comic strips by Pamela Rice Hahn, the first of which is the Writing Woes comic strip. Pammy is a writer who is also disabled because of chronic illness and chronic conditions, so she also appears in the Chronic Illness Realities comic strip.

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