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Is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Real?

It is unfortunate that this question even exists, but the answer is unequivocal. Yes, multiple chemical sensitivity is real and recognized as a disability by many government agencies as demonstrated in this reprint from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.




MAY 1996

Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS)

MCS is an acquired chronic syndrome described as a severe toxic allergic-like reaction to extremely low levels of chemicals in our environment.

MCS has developed over the past four decades and is caused by overexposure to some 100,000 new, more toxic synthetic chemicals.

Research contends that a victim’s body becomes unable to cleanse its tissues of chemicals to which it is exposed, either in small doses over time or from a single tremendous dose. Exposure can come from the air, food, water, or skin contact. These chemical irritants come from a great variety of sources. These include, but are not limited to plastics, household cleaning products, pesticide, solvents, smoke, kinks, fuels, natural gas, auto exhaust, scented products, synthetic fabrics, leather, glues, building materials, carpeting, etc. As the body breaks down, an ever-increasing number of chemicals including some unrelated to the initial exposure are found to trigger a reaction. Hence the name Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. MCS affects multiple organ systems, especially the central nervous, immune, respiratory, musculoskeletal, endocrine, and digestive systems. Symptoms vary in severity and duration and may include headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, exhaustion, respiratory problems, aching joints and muscles, memory and concentration problems, irritated eyes, nose, ears, throat, skin, odor intolerance, and sensitivity to bright light, sound and temperature extremes.

MCS is a permanent condition. Severely affected people have lost their jobs and had their lives disrupted. Their symptoms have left them incapacitated and essentially home-bound.

Dr. Iris Bell, a leading MCS researcher and chief of geriatric psychiatry at Tucson Veterans Affairs Hospital in Arizona, estimates that as many as 16 million people in the U.S. now have hypersensitive reactions to chemicals.


Many traditional allergists and other physicians discount the existence of an MCS diagnosis. They claim that there is not yet sufficient evidence that MCS exists. Research efforts regarding the mechanisms that cause MCS have been inadequate and unfortunately are often financed and supported by the industries, which benefit from chemical proliferation. Generally, medical doctors have not been trained to understand or seriously investigate conditions such as MCS. In fact, the vast majority of physicians receive very little training (four hours or less) in occupational and environmental medicine or in toxicology and nutrition.

Therefore, it is not surprising that many affected individuals consult with a large number of specialists. People with MCS are often even diagnosed with serious degenerative diseases. Often baffled doctors tell their patients with MCS that their illness is entirely psychosomatic in their heads. And many whose health is impaired by MCS have never heard of the condition. The lack of support and understanding from physicians and the stress created by having no explanation for symptoms tends to produce a high level of anxiety and distress in people with MCS.

At this time, conventional medicine offers very few medical treatments for MCS besides avoiding offending products. Unfortunately, medications and other conventional medical treatments offer little or no relief and may even prompt new sets of symptoms. Treatment with anti-depressants masks the underlying condition and can also cause other serious problems.

Physicians who clearly recognize the MCS phenomenon include some occupational and environmental health specialists and those MDs who specialize in the new field of clinical ecology. A wide range of new or alternative treatments have been utilized by MCS sufferers with varying success. Though some of the treatments are still experimental in nature, they seem to help some individuals with MCS. These treatments may include a combination of the following: nutritional programs, intravenous vitamin therapy, provocation/neutralization therapy, immunotherapy vaccines, enzyme potentiated desensitization, (EPD), food inhalant-allergy testing, detoxification regimens, detoxification through exercise and sweating, rotational diet, chelation for heavy metals, as well as any number of non-Western healing methods. Diagnosis may involve unconventional laboratory tests not customary in conventional medicine, including tests for the presence of chemical contaminants, such as the total body burden of accumulated pesticides.

Eventually, MCS sufferers become allergic to food, artificial flavors, colors, fillers, preservatives, and need to be on a rotation diet, eating organic food whenever possible. MCS sufferers also become allergic to common inhalant allergens, such as pollens, mold spores, dust, and dust mites.

Many people have shown improvement with these treatments, though others have not. Unfortunately, these treatments are not usually reimbursed by insurance plans, since few participating practitioners support alternative approaches.

Individuals affected by MCS often create a “sanctuary” relatively free from chemical emissions in their homes, where they spend as much time as possible. Because of the serious impact of even an accidental unavoidable exposure. MCS sufferers often spend as much time at home as possible and often must choose not to participate in society. As a result, they may experience intense isolation and loss of self-esteem, and depression from not being able to have an active work or social life. Therefore, supportive counseling is often a very useful form of treatment.

Many different terms have been used in professional and lay literature over the past decade to describe all or part of what often is more accurately called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. Those marked below by a diamond are also distinctly recognized medical conditions and listed as such in the International Classification of Diseases.

*20th Century Disease
*Environmental Hypersensitivity Disorder
*Allergic Toxemia
*Gulf War (or Persian Gulf Syndrome
*Immune System Dysregulation
*Cerebral Allergy
+Intrinsic Asthma
*Chemical Hypersensitivity Syndrome
*Multiple Chemical Hypersensitivity Syndrome
*Chemical Induced Immune Dysfunction
*Multiple Chemical Reactivity
+Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
*Sick Building Syndrome
*Ecological Illness
*Total Allergy Syndrome
*Environmental Illness (EI)
*Toxic Carpet Syndrome
*Environmental Irritant Syndrome
+Toxic Encephalopathy
*Environmentally Induced Illness
*Toxic Response Syndrome


  • Federal Authorities
  • U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, Board of Scientific Counselors ATSDR
  • Americans with Disabilities Act ADA
  • U.S. Army Medical Evaluation Board
  • U.S. Congress
  • U.S. Department of Education
  • U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
  • U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, National Library of Medicine MESH
  • U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
  • U. S. Department of Justice
  • U. S. Department of Veteran Affairs
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development (EPA)
  • U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
  • Social Security Administration (SSA)
  • Federal Courts
  • State and Local Authorities
  • State Courts
  • Attorney General of 27 States (AL, AZ,CA,CT,FL,IA, KS, MA, MN, NO,ND,NJ,NM, NV,NY,OH,OK,OR,PA,SD,TN,TX,UT,VT,WA,WI,WV)
  • Arizona Department of Economic Security, Rehabilitation Services Administration and Statewide Independent Living Council
  • NYS Department of Environmental and Occupational Health
  • NY Cite Department of Health
  • NYS Division of Human Rights
  • PA Human Rights Commission
  • FL Legislature
  • Minneapolis Advisory Committee of People with Disabilities
  • Minneapolis Public Housing Authority
  • NJ Department of Health

End of Reprint.

Yes, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is Real

As you can see, multiple chemical sensitivity is real and has a profound impact on the individual’s life. It is a complex and multi-faceted condition that is poorly understood by the medical community, which leaves the patient with few treatment options and a lack of a support system. Learn more about MCS.

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