FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
ABOUT MULTIPLE CHEMICAL SENSITIVITY
by Bob Michaels
1. What is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity?
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) is a condition in which persons
become ill following exposure to certain chemicals encountered in everyday
life. Such chemicals include smoke, pesticides, plastics, synthetic fabrics,
perfumes, scented products, petroleum products, fumes, and paints.
Persons who experience MCS have a more intense reaction to chemicals
than most people, in much the same way some individuals have a far more
severe allergic reaction to animals or pollen.
2. How is MCS related to Environmental Illness
MCS is acute sensitivity to chemical substances. EI includes not only
this but also a broad range of conditions triggered by airborne pollution,
food, naturally occurring substances such as molds and pollens, and electromagnetic
3. How common is MCS?
According to recent studies, approximately 15 percent of the population
has increased sensitivity to chemicals. It is estimated that physicians
have diagnosed five percent of people in the United States, or about 13
million people, as being especially vulnerable to certain common chemicals.
There have been several recent studies, cited below, which support these
The incidence of MCS seems to be higher with women than men (as is the
case with many autoimmune diseases), often appears between the ages of
30 and 50 years, and strikes without regard to race or economic background.
4. What causes MCS?
It is not precisely clear what causes MCS. Sometimes a single incident
such as petrochemical fire can trigger MCS. Often, a reaction intensifies
insidiously--that is, one's reaction to a given chemical increases inconspicuously
but with grave effects. Commonly cited examples of MCS development include
recurrent exposure to fresh paint, pest control insecticides, and carpeting
glue. Research on MCS has also indicated that long-term exposure to chemicals
has a cumulative effect on many people.
There are other factors which may contribute or predispose a person to
MCS. These include heredity, nutrition, hormonal functioning, presence
of another illness, some medications, trauma, and stress.
5. Is MCS real--or just a psychosomatic, "boutique"
People with disabilities have a long history of needing to convince physicians,
researchers, and even family members that they experience very real ailments.
Most recently, people with Multiple Sclerosis, Gulf War Syndrome, and
Post Polio Syndrome had long intense battles with physicians to convince
them that the incapacitation they experience is not "in their heads,"
or a manifestation of a "poor attitude."
Both MCS and EI are very real conditions, even though many medical doctors
are not yet trained to identify this disability. The Social Security Administration
and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recognize MCS as
a disabling condition, as do numerous other government agencies and judicial
Some advocates refer to this disability as Chemical Injury Syndrome (CIS),
which they believe more effectively communicates the severity of this
6. What architectural design standards must be followed
to make my center more accessible to persons with MCS and EI?
The short answer is: There aren't any. Neither the Uniform Federal Accessibility
Standards (UFAS) nor the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility
Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (ADAAG) address MCS and EI.
Centers for independent living often set a higher standard of accessibility,
exceeding the requirements of the law. Center boards, staff, and consumers
know all too well the frustration one feels when encountered with the
excuses, "They don't come in here anyway" and "It costs
too much." Centers must set an example in assuring that all people
can enter their offices.
7. What can we do to make our facility (center)
more accessible to persons with MCS and EI?
Here are ten recommendations which would make your facility accessible
to most people with MCS/EI:
- Adopt and enforce no smoking and no fragrance policies and post signs
accordingly, including on paths of travel (to restrooms, the parking
lot, common areas, etc).
- Discontinue chemical pest control, such as structural chemicals and
flea bombs, and replace them with non-toxic pest controls. (Sources
for alternative products are identified below.)
- Remove or disarm fragrance emission devices and systems (FEDS).
- Discontinue using toxic, fragrance-laden cleaning products, and use
only non-toxic paints on the walls and ceilings.
- Attach carpeting to floors using nails or adhesive strips rather than
glue; ventilate the room thoroughly.
- Prohibit staff and visitors from idling vehicles near the entranceway
or windows of the facility.
- Purchase only metal and real wood furniture (look for used furniture)
and avoid synthetic cloth-covered room dividers and curtains which collect
dust and contaminants.
- Landscape with ornamental rock and pebbles. Avoid juniper, olive,
acacia, and cedar trees. Discontinue use of lawn care chemicals.
- Incorporate notice of your MCS/EI safeguards into all center literature
and correspondence. Here is an example: "To allow The Center for
Independent Living to be fully accessible to all people with disabilities,
including persons with multiple chemical sensitivities/environmental
illness, please do not wear scented products (perfume, aftershave, deodorant,
shampoo, etc.) to any meetings, demonstrations, groups, or workshops
held at or by CIL. We appreciate your cooperation. Meetings are wheelchair
accessible, and assistive listening devices, as well as materials in
alternate formats, are available upon request."
- At minimum, make one room "safe," that is, create an environmentally
safer room with a separate entranceway, if possible. This well-ventilated
room would be free of carpeting, curtains, fluorescent lights, the microwave
oven, electromagnetic fields, natural gas, and toxins.
8. Where can I get more information about MCS and
This FAQ has borrowed heavily from two documents: Topics, Multiple Chemical
Sensitivity, prepared by Beth Pifer of the Arizona Technology Access Program
(AZTAP) and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity by Ann McCampbell, M.D.
Other sources for help, information, local resources, and alternative
products are listed below.
American Academy of Environmental Medicine
P.O. Box 1001-8001
New Hope, PA 18938
American Indian Environmental Illness Foundation
Terri Hansen, Director
P.O. Box 1039
Long Beach, WA 98631
Arizona Technology Access Program
Northern Arizona University
Institute for Human Development
P.O. Box 5630
Flagstaff, AZ 86011-5630
Iris R. Bell, MD
Tucson VA Medical Center
3601 South Sixth Avenue
Mail Slot 4-116A Tucson, AZ 85723
(520) 792-1450 ext. 5127
Chemical Injury Information Network
Cynthia Wilson, Director
P.O. Box 301
White Sulphur Springs, MT 59645
The Dispossessed Project
P.O. Box 402
Paulden, AZ 86334-0402
Environmental Research Foundation
105 Eastern Avenue, Suite 101
Annapolis, MD 21403-3300
The Guide to Planning Accessible Meetings
c/o ILRU Program
2323 S. Shepherd, Suite 1000
Houston, TX 77019
The Labor Institute
853 Broadway, Room 2014
New York, NY 10003
MCS Referral and Resources
Albert Donnay, Director
508 Westgate Road
Baltimore, MD 21229-2343
National Center for Environmental Health Strategies (NCEHS)
Mary Lamielle, Director
1100 Rural Avenue Voorhees, NJ 08043
NY Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NYCAP)
Albany, NY 12210
Electrical Sensitivity Network
Lucinda Grant, Director
P.O. Box 4146
Prescott, AZ 86302-4146
The Environmental Health Network
P.O. Box 1155
Larkspur, CA 94977
Human Ecology Action League (HEAL) of Southern Arizona
PO Box 36404
Tucson AZ 85740-6404
National Coalition for the Chemically Injured
HC-63 Box 7195
Snowflake, AZ 85937
US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
US Social Security Administration
ALTERNATIVE INSECT CONTROL
2311 East Indian School Road
Phoenix, AZ 85016
P.O. Box 2469
Prescott, AZ 86304-2469
This fact sheet was prepared by Bob Michaels with assistance from Laurel
Richards, Dawn Heinsohn, and Agnes McAllister. Appreciation is extended
to Susan Molloy who contributed significantly to this document.