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In a week, I will be discussing at a meeting what is MCS and why do I act the way I do when I am exposed to toxic chemicals. I react to many products containing toxic chemicals: pesticides, bleach, ammonia, gas, permanent markers, paint, smoke, newspaper ink …. This presentation will be mostly about synthetic “fragrances”. Why? Because for me they are the most frequent triggers and the easiest for people to choose to discontinue using so that I can avoid them.

Definition of MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity)

A chronic condition where the symptoms recur reproducibly after exposures to low levels chemicals. Symptoms occur when the person is exposed to different unrelated chemicals. The symptoms improve or resolve after the chemicals triggering the response are removed. Multiple organs are effected from the exposure. (1999 consensus by 89 clinicians. MCS-America)

A quick PSA overview from Frederick CC on chemical sensitivities.

MY Symptoms and Reactions

Migraines, Hives, Body Aches, “Fuzzy-headedness”, loss of memory, inability to process information, chronic fatigue, throat swelling shut, stomach pains/diarrhea, depression, mood swings, nausea, loss of voice — these are the major ones I endure with the greatest frequency when I breathe in a “fragrance”. The more I became sensitive to or poisoned by toxic chemicals — I also became allergic to multiple foods.

There are a number of physical reactions that can occur when reacting to a toxic chemical. Here is a more complete list on Linda’s blog: Seriously Sensitive to Pollution. 


Whether I like or dislike the smell of your fragrance has nothing to do with whether my throat closes off and I break out in hives or I lose the ability to remember how to leave a room. It is the TOXIC CHEMICALS contained in the “fragrance” that are causing a reaction in one or more organs in my body. I react to the toxic chemicals even when there so little present that an odor cannot be detected.

Here is Stephanie’s post on what it is like when someone with MCS says they are reacting to a trigger and the person responds “But I don’t smell anything.”

How Long Does Something Remain Toxic Once Exposed to a Synthetic “Fragrance?

I don’t know.

I sat in a chair where someone had “fragrance” on and no one else had sat in over a month and spiked a migraine. I soaked second-hand clothes in vinegar or baking soda and washed them in a plant-based non-scented laundry soap — SEVEN times and still could not remove the toxic chemicals so that I could wear them. I had a purse that I had never placed “scented” products in — that a year after I had carried it in public — still was toxic from the “fragrance” it picked up. My fragrance-free dad sat next to someone wearing perfume — 2 1/2 hours later he stopped at my house and sat on my couch. Although he left quickly and I opened the door for fresh air — three days later I still spiked a migraine from sitting on the couch.

Of course the easiest way to have non-toxic fabrics is to support their production and sale in the first place. Here is an article on O Ecotextiles site giving many great suggestions.

Why Do Toxic Chemicals and “Fragrances” effect some people more than others?

I don’t have this answer and from what I’ve read neither do the scientists. ANYONE of any age or race or socio-economic background can develop a sensitivity to toxic chemicals at levels from mild to disabled. Personally, I wish we would spend less time on this question and more time on changing the laws which legally allow companies to use toxic chemicals in our everyday products without having to disclose them or test them as long as they claim that they are trade secrets.

Some people are exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals and become disabled very quickly. Others like me had mild MCS for decades before the introduction of new products containing toxic “fragrances” and an increase in the frequency of exposure to these products caused me to become disabled. What matters to me is why are multiple governments continuing to allow this to happen. We may not know the “why me and not you” and we may not have a cure BUT WE KNOW HOW TO PREVENT THIS FROM HAPPENING TO ANYONE ELSE. Fresh air is all we need — and it’s free. Unfortunately, it is getting very hard to find.

The Center for Disease Control (as posted on Linda’s site) has a fragrance-free policy — does your home? business? organization? government? school? And more importantly is it enforced?


We need less fear and more compassion and empathy. Compassion and empathy are not silence nor passivity. In order to express either, one must boldly speak out. Here are two short TED talks that show that breaking the silence may not be comfortable but speaking out can and does make a difference. If you want to become educated about the toxic chemicals in “fragrances” and other products so that you can break the silence if only with yourself here is a great site: Environmental Working Group.