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Etiquette for Use with People Who Have Chemical Sensitivities
Etiquette for Use with People Who Have Chemical Sensitivities
Disability & Accessibility

Over time, living organisms can adjust to gradual changes in their environment. But in recent years changes to habitat have been so rapid that the human organism, among others, can only strain to keep up. For certain vulnerable people, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), Electrical Sensitivity (ES), and other Environmental Illnesses (EI) can be disabling medical conditions initiated by acute or ongoing  exposure to one or more chemicals, molds, electrical fields, or medications.

Following sensitization, subsequent exposures at even very low doses can exacerbate the person's sensitivity. Eventually, symptoms are provoked even by unrelated substances, foods, and electrical fields. Symptoms can be debilitating, sometimes life-threatening, and commonly include severe dizziness; headaches; fainting; tiredness; burning/itching of skin and eyes; flu-like symptoms; emotional disturbances; and seizure disorders. In addition, any chronic neurological disorders, asthma, and autoimmune disorders (such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis) can also be aggravated by exposures.

Commonplace exposures that trigger symptoms for a sensitized individual include chemical emissions from new carpets, building materials, and furnishings; scented personal care products; maintenance, cleaning, disinfection and pest control chemicals; solvents; dyes; soft plastics; molds and mildew; animal dander; scented or petroleum candles; soaps, shampoos; detergents; wood and tobacco smoke; gas stove and furnace fuel and emissions; vehicle exhaust. Eventually, reactions can be triggered by noise, temperature, the sun, fluorescents, flashing lights, and any electrical equipment such as transformers, cell phones, or overhead power lines.

Remember, each person is unique, whether they live with a disability or chronic health condition, or not. Therefore, it is impossible to make universal statements about what will enable us all, in our diversity, to be welcomed through accommodation. As with all reciprocal relationships, it is always important and appropriate to ask the people being welcomed what will work for them.


When you are with a person who has multiple chemical sensitivities:

  • Choose personal products that are fragrance-free. Be aware that there are hidden, long-lasting fragrances in detergents, fabric softeners, new clothing, deodorants, tissues, toilet paper, potpourris, scented candles, hair sprays, magazines, hand lotions, disposable diapers, and dishwashing liquids.
  • Use only unscented soap in restrooms, and carefully wrap and dispose of chemical air "fresheners"
  • Designate fragrance-free seating sections for church and community events
  • Designate smoking areas away from buildings so people don't have to pass through smoke when entering, or have smoke waft in through doorways or windows
  • Adopt a policy of using fragrance-free cleaning products
  • Provide adequate ventilation; clean furnace filters frequently
  • Make sure toxic substances are labeled, tightly sealed, and stored in a separate safe area
  • Post herbicide or insecticide application schedule in your newsletter. Post signs of treatment dates prominently. Use integrated pest management best practices
  • Avoid wearing scented personal care products in public places. Improve indoor air quality simply by not wearing fragrance. Fragrance, like second-hand smoke, affects the health of those around you
  • Unscented beeswax candles are often well-tolerated by people with sensitivities. Use them, as an alternative to scented or paraffin candles
  • Learn what an individual is sensitive/allergic to and make accommodations respectfully

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