Multiple Chemical Sensitivity—A Mysterious Malady
Pam’s home was in a housing tract surrounded by cotton fields. Planes regularly dusted the fields with herbicides and pesticides; and the wind often carried chemical residues to nearby homes, including Pam’s.
PAM began experiencing severe headaches and nausea, and her health deteriorated. In time, she was adversely affected by substances that seemingly had no relation to pesticides: perfumes, deodorants, body lotions, cleaning agents, paint, new carpet, tobacco smoke, room deodorizers, and other substances. Pam’s symptoms are among those generally attributed to a baffling malady called multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).*
“When I come in contact with everyday chemicals, I start feeling very tired as well as disoriented, dizzy, and nauseated,” Pam explained to Awake! “My body becomes bloated, and at times I experience shortness of breath, panic attacks with uncontrollable crying, heart palpitations, increased pulse rate, and fluid buildup in my lungs. This has even led to pneumonia.”
While the symptoms seen in MCS vary somewhat from person to person, they may include headaches, extreme fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain, eczema, rashes, flulike symptoms, asthma, sinus problems, anxiety, depression, memory problems, difficulty in concentrating, insomnia, irregular heartbeat, bloating, nausea, vomiting, intestinal problems, and seizures. Of course, many of these symptoms can also be caused by other illnesses.
MCS—A Growing Problem
In the United States, surveys among various groups of the population suggest that between 15 and 37 percent of the population consider themselves especially sensitive or allergic to common chemicals and chemical odors, such as car exhaust, tobacco smoke, fresh paint, new carpet, and perfumes. However, only 5 percent or fewer, depending on the age group surveyed, said that MCS had been diagnosed. About three quarters of these were women.
Many sufferers of MCS say that pesticides and solvents caused their condition. Both products are common in the environment, especially solvents. Solvents are volatile (highly evaporative) substances that disperse or dissolve other substances. They are an ingredient in paints, varnishes, adhesives, pesticides, cleaning solutions.
In the following articles, we will examine MCS a little more closely, discuss what help is available for those who suffer from this condition, and see how sufferers and nonsufferers can cooperate to make life more pleasant for those who have MCS.
We have used the term “multiple chemical sensitivity” because of its widespread use. However, there are many other terms, including “environmental illness” and “chemical hypersensitivity syndrome.” “Sensitivity” here refers to being affected by chemicals in amounts that do not appear to affect most people.