Fragrance free work place unlikely to become reality

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Multiple chemical sensitivity

A US lawsuit pushing for fragrance free work environments is
described as 'unrealistic' by Allergy UK, who instead advocate a
recognition of the Multiple Chemical Sensitivity as a genuine
illness.

Susan McBride, who works for the city of Detroit, is suing the authority under the Americans with Disabilities Act claiming that modern fragrances contain toxic chemicals that are harmful to health. The lawsuit aims to secure a fragrance free policy for the work place, a few of which have already been implemented in a handful of American institutions such as the Bureau of Emergency Communications in Portland, Oregon. In contrast, the current situation in Europe, known to have a somewhat less litigious culture, appears to be rather more moderate. Allergy UK, the UK's leading allergy charity, state they will not be lobbying for fragrance free work environments but simply for the recognition of multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome as a genuine illness. MCS is described as the severe allergic-type reactions that some individuals suffer when in contact with a wide variety of chemical substances including many of those found in deodorants, fragrances, hair sprays and similar personal care products. Reactions can include headaches, skin rashes, muscoskeletal pains, burning sensations and severe fatigue, with some individuals having trouble with coordination and lengthy concentration. 'A fragrance free work environment could represent an infringement on peoples' civil rights,'​ said Lindsey McManus of Allergy UK. In addition she added that the chemicals that could lead to an adverse reaction are almost infinite stating that 'sufferers may not even be able to tolerate the soap products used to wash an individual's clothes'​ so asking for a work environment free of all possible provoking stimulants would be 'unrealistic'​. Instead the organisation calls for recognition of the syndrome as a genuine illness stating on their website that there 'can no longer be any doubt that for a small proportion of people MSC is a genuine and terrifying illness.'​ It is hoped that such recognition would allow for the treatment of sufferers on the NHS as well as providing relief to sufferers who are often accused of 'making up' the illness. In addition official recognition of the syndrome may encourage manufacturers to concentrate on developing more fragrance free products to give consumers the choice at least of their own personal care products. This is likely to fuel the already strong demand for chemical-free natural products in the personal care market as manufacturers attempt to attract the custom of those concerned by an overload of chemicals on the body. MCS is not an allergy in the conventional sense although sufferers usually have a history of allergies or asthma. Illness often follows a one-off exposure to a particular high level of a chemical which then develops into sensitivity to the chemical at much lower levels; this may then lead to sensitivity to multiple chemicals more or less similar. This is not a classic allergy as the body is not acquiring a sensitivity to a specific excitant, instead similar symptoms are being reported as a result of exposure to many and varied excitants. However, the mechanism behind MCS is not known leading many, including much of the medical profession, to refer to it as a psychosomatic illness with little or no treatment offered to sufferers. Some studies have shown that patients with a history of sensory hyperactivity suffer from adverse symptoms when exposed to strong scents even if they cannot smell any scent (Millqvist and Lowhagen, Allergy 1996 vol 51 pages 434-439) suggesting that reactions are not wholly psychosomatic, however there is a lack of reliable scientific studies into the condition. Allergy UK hope that the recognition of MCS as a genuine illness will lead to further scientific research, and the organisation warns against the plethora of 'dodgy' scientific studies available to a wide audience via the internet that only serve to harm the cause.

Related topics: Fragrance

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