, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This was a nickname given to me at work. If you haven’t heard the phrase, it relates to the fact that coal miners would bring canaries into the mine with them. The small bird would show signs of physical distress if toxic gases where present well before the miners would be able to detect the gases presence. And OBVIOUSLY the miners would evacuate the area.

How did I acquire this nickname? It is because I have MCS (multiple chemical sensitivities). It is just as it sounds – many different chemicals make me sick. I first noticed my symptoms almost 30 years ago: mostly headaches when I was near someone wearing perfume or cologne. I stopped wearing scented products and asked family and friends to tone it down. For about 25 years my life was fairly normal. But about 5 years ago a few things happened to kick my sensitivities into high gear. I taught in a high school. 

         Kids started spraying cologne/perfume on each other in the hallways.

         Boys started wearing a product that I am highly sensitive to.

And then things really got interesting. When I asked kids to tone it down – that my reaction could be life threatening – some kids did. In fact some kids went out of their way to let me know if cologne/perfume had been sprayed. There were a few, however, that increased their usage.

My symptoms vary with the type of chemical and the length of exposure. The short list of symptoms for ME: headaches/migraines, hives, throat closing off, dizziness, faintness, shaking, nausea, weakness, extreme fatigue, and chest pains. Also as the chemical sensitivities skyrocketed – my allergies to foods increased as well: peanuts, raw vegetables (carrots, broccoli, and spinach), melons, raw nuts, pomegranate juice and more. I am now intolerant to gluten. (Note: MCS symptoms vary with the individual – these are mine.

It is after all easier to not wear perfume/cologne then to wear it. To wear some: one has to get up, go to a job to make money so they can get in a car (or fire up a computer) to buy the product and then to have to open the package and apply the product.

To not wear it – one ends up with more money and more time – because nothing needs to be done.

Imagine asking the people you work with. The people you’ve cared about for 20 years to do less than they are doing now – to do something that would result in them having more money – so that you wouldn’t die. Would you be willing to not wear perfume/cologne to save the job and life of a colleague?  Would you be willing to wear unscented rather than scented products? Would you as the employer be willing to make the work space scent free?

Some are doing just that. The one that stands out to me is the CDC. That would be the Center for Disease Control. Yes. They have a fragrance free policy at their place of employment. What does that tell the rest of us about the toxicity of products that contain a fragrance? (For a list of more schools/business/government agencies going fragrance free go here.)

So what do I need your help with? Educate yourself. I’ll help with that. I started a list of fellow bloggers speaking out about environmental issues. Check them out. (If you are blogging about these issues and you are not on my list let me know)

I am now considered disabled. I am saddened to hear the multitude of stories from people who are like I was only 5 years ago. Air fresheners make their eyes water. Perfume makes their throat close off. Scented products make them cough and their chest feel tight. They all say, “But I’m NOT like you!”


There is no accurate count of the number of people who have MCS because MOST have not been seen by a doctor or the doctor is not familiar with MCS. It makes me weep the number of people who I know personally that are suffering with MCS who have not sought medical diagnosis nor have they changed their lifestyles to accommodate their sensitivities.

 I understand.

My son BEGGED me to quit my job. I said, “But then I’ll have no income, no insurance and I love teaching.” Well when my sick days run out in a couple of weeks, I apparently will have no income, no insurance BUT now it is life threatening to leave my house. And when I am forced to turn the heat on it will be life threatening to be in my house.

I am saddened that everyday kids exposed to scented products could end up disabled as I have or worse.  I shower, wash my hair and my clothes, use makeup but I do it with non-toxic plant-based products. It is not the smell that bothers me. It is the toxic chemicals produced in a laboratory that are used to make the scent in most perfumes/colognes and other scented personal care and cleaning products.

So often I sat in a room suffering – and said nothing – why? – Now I know it was shame.  This topic will take many posts – my ultimate goal for now is to make ALL SCHOOLS and ultimately all public places free of scents made from toxic chemicals.

The government knows of the toxic plumes of chemicals its people are being exposed to in restaurants, banks, schools, on the streets and anywhere unlabeled, unregulated, scented products are found. How many people need to become sickened or die before action is taken? Why are increasing the bank accounts of corporations more important than increasing the quality and length of my life?

Trade secrets aren’t so secret to this Canary in the Coal Mine. I may not be able to give you the exact chemical compound found in your product but I can tell you it belongs in a toxic waste dump and not being applied to children, pregnant women, and men and women of all ages. I do imagine that all the CEO’s making millions off our suffering do not have one mirror in their homes. I do not think the shame of what they are doing to the human race under the “right” of a legal loophole, would allow them to look deep into their own eyes and face their souls.

And now I need to write the post on mediation I promised a fellow blogger and for all those trying to heal even as we continue to be gassed out of the vibrant, thriving, productive lives we once had.

If this post makes you sad, angry, shamed or guilty do something about it. Those are wasted emotions. Instead, redirect that wasted energy to create a healthier world.


The Canary in the Coal Mine