Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)
I have created this website to raise awareness about a condition called chemical sensitivity. It is also known as multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), environmental illness (EI), Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance (TILT) or the term I generally use, environmental allergies. It is a medical condition where a person has adverse health effects from “exposures to common chemicals such as perfume, air fresheners, scented laundry products, pesticides, tobacco smoke, fresh paint, new carpet, new building materials, vehicle exhaust, solvents, industrial fumes and many cleaning products”. Source: https://annmccampbellmd.com/multiple-chemical-sensitivity/ The chemically sensitive’s adverse health effects can be immediate or delayed and range form mild to severe. They can include symptoms such as headaches, gastrointestinal problems, heart arrhymias, skin problems, vision problems, breathing difficulties, fatigue, cognitive impairment, tremors, even seizures.
Leading MCS experts say the development of multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) occurs in two steps. First is the initiation of the disease from either repeated low level chemical exposures or from a single high level chemical exposure. Exposures that have been known to initiate chemical sensitivity include to pesticides, herbicides, petrochemicals, solvents such as glues, hair spray or polish, cleaning products, industrial emissions, mold, medications, new furnishings or carpet, a newly built home or recently remodeled office. The second step is sensitization or the triggering of multi-symptoms to a wider array of unrelated and common chemicals that never bothered the person before and doesn’t bother most people.
While some people are more tolerant of chemical exposures than others according to MCS experts anyone can develop multiple chemical sensitivity with sufficient exposure. Prevention is the key as once it has been initiated it is a lifelong condition and dramatically changes one’s life. It is important to reduce exposure to environmental toxins to reduce risk of developing MCS (see suggestions below for ways to reduce exposures).
I myself was diagnosed with chemical sensitivity due to a chemical injury from solvents used to clean, strip and polish floors in my workplace. If you are interested in more details about what led up to my developing MCS go to My MCS Story page on this website.
Prevalence of Chemical Sensitivity in US Population
In recent years I have noticed more people mentioning that they were sensitive to fragrances. So when a recent study looking at the prevalence of MCS in the US found a significant increase in prevalence I wasn’t totally surprised. To summarize the study, a representative cross-section of the population across America was surveyed. They asked the participants had they either been medically diagnosed with MCS or did they consider themselves compared to other people, allergic or unusually sensitive to everyday chemicals (like household cleaning products, paints, perfumes, detergents, insect spray, etc). They found that 12.8% had been medically diagnosed with MCS and 25.9% self-diagnosed as chemically sensitive (said they were allergic or unusually sensitive to everyday chemicals). These numbers are up over 3X for medically diagnosed MCS and up over 2X for self-diagnosed MCS from surveys that were conducted a little over 10 years ago. This is a significant increase in just a little over 10 years. Another surprising finding from the survey, when looking at demographics of the medically diagnosed people with MCS, was that 57.9% were male and 42.1% female. Previous national prevalence studies in the US found instead a higher female to male prevalence of those medically diagnosed. To see the full article go to: https://journals.lww.com/joem/Fulltext/2018/03000/National_Prevalence_and_Effects_of_Multiple.17.aspx
Body Burden of Toxins
After learning about the results of this study I called the Chemical Injury Information Network (ciin.org), a national resource group for the chemically injured, and spoke to one of the founders. I wanted to get their opinion as to why there was such an increase in prevalence of MCS that this recent study showed. It was his opinion that it was because people are getting increased exposures to toxic chemicals and that it has increased their total body toxic loads. Then at some point they get one too many exposures which tips them over into developing chemical sensitivity.
According to the governments’s National Toxicology Program “more than 80,000 chemicals are registered for use in the United States. Each year, an estimated 2,000 new ones are introduced for use in such everyday items as foods, personal care products, prescription drugs, household cleaners, and lawn care products. We do not know the effects of many of these chemicals on our health, yet we may be exposed to them while manufacturing, distributing, using and disposing of them or when they become pollutants in our air, water, or soil”. Source: https://archive.epa.gov/oig/catalog/web/html/167.html
The vast majority of chemicals we are all exposed to on a daily basis are untested for safety and are not regulated (more on this later) and are increasing in number every year. According to Debra Dadd in her book, Toxic Free How to Protect Your Health and Home From the Chemicals That Are Making You Sick, “there is such a huge volume of toxic chemicals in the world today that there are far more than our bodies were designed to handle. When your body’s detox system is insufficient to remove the amount of toxic chemicals you are expose to-and this applies to virtually everyone alive today-then the toxicants that come into your body will not be excreted, but instead will be stored in your body. The total amount of these chemicals that are being stored in your body at a given time is called your body burden. Of course, how quickly chemicals are removed from your body depends on the condition of your body’s detoxification system and the amount of toxic chemicals you are exposed to.”
According to scientists our bodies vary in ability to break down and eliminate chemicals due to genetic differences. Factors such as age, illness, nutrition and medications can also affect a person’s sensitivity to chemicals. Young children because their detoxification systems are still developing are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals.
US Populations’ Exposure to Contaminants
Numerous studies have been done over the years documenting the exposure of the US population to contaminants. Following are summaries of four of these studies:
During the late 1980s the EPA sampled human fat tissue in the US population and found 700 chemical contaminants. Adipose tissue is where a large percentage of the contaminants in our bodies are stored. The EPA biopsies of fat tissue showed that we all have polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in our bodies from dyes ink, adhesives, carbonless copy paper, paints, pesticides, plastics and many other products. Our most significant exposure to PCBs is from fish. Even though PCBs were banned in 1979 many rives, buildings and other sites are still contaminated with them. The biopsies also found we have styrene in our bodies from takeout food containers and Styrofoam cups. And we all have dichlorobenzene, a solvent, in our bodies from breathing fumes from air fresheners, toilet bowel deodorizers and other consumer products. We have also all accumulated xylene, another solvent, from breathing gasoline, paint, varnish, rust preventatives, permanent markers and cigarette smoke. Biopsies also found that we all have dioxins, an industrial by-product, in our bodies. It’s found in the soil and water and our main source of dioxin is from meat, dairy and fish. All these chemicals have been known to cause cancer as well as other illnesses. Source: Debra Lynn Dadd, Toxic Free How to Protect Your Health and Home From the Chemicals That Are Making You Sick
Another study in 2003 by Mt. Sinai School of Medicine found that each of the nine healthy volunteers studied averaged 91 compounds in their blood or urine. Of the 167 chemicals found, 74 chemicals are carcinogenic, 94 chemicals toxic to the brain and nervous system, 86 chemicals interfere with the hormone system, 79 are associated with birth defects, 77 are toxic to the reproductive track and 77 toxic to the immune system. In 2004 when the Environmental Working Group looked at the umbilical cord blood of 10 newborn babies they found total of 287 chemicals. They found an average of 230 contaminants were passed from the mothers to their newborns. Source: http://www.earthfuture.com/cancer/files/Our_Body_Burden.pdf
One of the most recent assessments of the exposure of the US population to chemicals in our environment was the CDC’s Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals 2009. It found one type of fire retardant was found in nearly all of the blood samples taken from NHANES participants. Bisphenol A (BPA), a component of epoxy resins and polycarbonate plastics, was found in more than 90% of urine samples. Another example of widespread exposure was the finding that most of the participants had measurable amounts of commonly used perfluorinated chemicals PFCs, known carcinogens, used to create non-stick coatings in cookware. Source: Debra Lynn Dadd, Toxic Free How to Protect Your Health and Home From the Chemicals That Are Making You Sick
Toxic Chemicals Contribute to Many Illnesses
Scientific evidence shows a direct link of exposures of toxic chemicals to a wide range of health disorders. These disorders include cancer, diabetes, allergies, asthma, eczema, heart disease, chemical sensitivities, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, infertility, autism, attention deficit disorder, learning difficulties, auto-immune disorders, inflammatory bowel disease as well as many other disorders.
We are exposed to these toxic chemicals in everyday products that we purchase such as cosmetics, shampoo, other personal care products, laundry products, perfumes, air fresheners, plastic containers, styrofoam containers, nonstick cookware, stain resistant carpet, upholstery and textiles, also paints, varnishes, formaldehyde containing pressed wood, particle board, insulation and other products, as well as fire retardant containing mattresses, furniture, electronics and other products, etc.
Government Regulations of Chemicals
Of the more than 80,000 registered chemicals in the US a large majority have never been tested for safety by independent scientific bodies. Companies are free to put them in any product they wish without government oversight. Even the chemicals that have been tested and are known to cause cancer and/or other health problems are not regulated such as BPA, phthalates, PFCs, parabens, fire retardants, formaldehyde, solvents, etc.
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was enacted in 1976 has been the nation’s main law enacted to govern chemical safety. But it was flawed and allowed hundreds of chemicals to come on the market every year without any proof of safety. Even with chemicals known to be toxic the government was powerless to do anything. In June of 2016 the Frank Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act was signed into law updating the TSCA. It was designed to give the EPA better tools to ensure the safety of chemicals and better protect the health of the public. While the law passed with strong bipartisan support progress towards implementation has been stalled or reversed by the Trump Administration. This has set back the bipartisan intentions for stronger protections from toxic chemicals. Source: https://www.edf.org/health/toxic-chemicals-law-should-now-better-protect-us
Reducing Exposure to Environmental Toxins
You don’t have to wait for government regulations to reduce your exposures to environmental toxins to protect your health. While it’s impossible to eliminate all exposure to environmental toxins there are simple steps to take to minimize your exposure. This will significantly reduce your body burden of toxins reducing your risk for developing chemical sensitivity as well as other chronic and serious health disorders.
- Avoid all pesticides, herbicides and fungicides as they are extremely toxic and known to be a common initiator of multiple chemical sensitivity as well as linked to many other disease such as cancer and Parkinson’s.
- Test your home for radon and mold and mitigate if necessary
- If you are a smoker consider quitting, avoid exposure to second hand smoke as much as possible
- Filter your tap water that is used for drinking and showering/bathing
- As much as possible choose organic foods, grass fed beef, free range chicken and eggs, wild caught fish
- Avoid processed foods containing nitrites and other preservatives, food coloring, MSG and other additives and artificial sweeteners (except for stevia and xylitol)
- Avoid plastic containers to reduce phthalates and BPA, known carcinogens
- Do not microwave plastic containers or use plastic wrap in microwave
- Buy foods in bottles rather than in plastic containers or cans
- Avoid styrofoam cups and takout containers as much as possible
- Choose glass, porcelain or stainless steel cups, water bottles, containers and travel mugs
- Avoid nonstick pots and pans, use glass, ceramic or stainless steel cookware instead
- Avoid fragranced products such as perfume, air fresheners, fragranced candles, deodorizers for furniture, carpet and toilet to reduce exposure to formaldehyde and other toxins
- Choose nontoxic cosmetics and personal care products*
- Avoid dryer sheets and fabric softeners also to reduce exposure to formaldehyde and other toxins
- Choose unscented and nontoxic laundry detergents.* Most laundry products today including dryer sheets, fabric softeners and detergents have been engineered to leave a chemical cocktail on your clothes, towels and bedding and are one of the biggest contributors to a toxic house.
- Choose nontoxic cleaning products*
- Avoid stain and water resistant and permanent press clothes and textiles
- Choose green or organic dry cleaners to reduce exposure to toxic dry cleaning chemicals
- When purchasing new carpet and furniture avoid stain and water resistant carpet and upholstery
- Replace your vinyl shower curtain with a fabric one
- Use low or zero VOC paints, varnishes, adhesives, etc.
- Choose flame retardant free mattresses, furniture and carpet padding when you are replacing
- Avoid particle board, pressed and engineered woods to limit formaldehyde exposure in the home
- Change furnace and air conditioner filters often
- Limit exposure to EMFs, electomagnetic fields, that raise cancer risk, cause DNA damage, infertility, heart arrhythmias, cognitive disorders, anxiety, depression, insomnia, etc. This includes cell phones (use speaker phone or text holding away from body and don’t carry phone next to your body (or turn off if do turning back on periodically to check for messages), computers (use wired mouse,keyboard, speakers and printer, don’t set laptop on lap), wifi and bluetooth (turn off when not in use especially at night or use wired ethernet connection turning off the wifi and bluetooth), avoid SMART appliances and electronics as much as possible, cordless phones (use corded), wireless baby monitor (use wired or set as far away from baby as possible if use wireless), electric blankets (avoid), wireless wearables (avoid wireless headsets, fitbits, Apple watches, etc.), and avoid having cell phones and chargers, other devices and electronics near your bed.
* The Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) is a non-profit organization that has researched a wide variety of products for safety. You can check out their large database to help you find laundry detergents, cleaning products, cosmetics and personal care products that do not contain harmful ingredients.
* MadeSafe.org is another database of products (though much smaller than EWG’s) with the Made Safe Nontoxic Seal that includes baby, personal care, household and other products.
See my Reducing Toxic Exposures page for more information on ways to reduce environmental toxins.
General Disclaimer: This website is for informational purposes only and should not be viewed as medical or legal advice, which should be obtained from qualified professionals.