Excerpt from Accessible Health Care and Chemical Sensitivity

by Katherine Kendall

Chronic illnesses—many of them dangerous, poorly understood, and difficult to treat—are on the rise. One of the most devastating and least understood is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). A study published by Environmental Health Perspectives (extrapolated to a population of 290 million) approximates that 36.5 million Americans are chemically sensitive, and that more than 5.2 million are at risk of losing their jobs as a result.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, Social Security Administration, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other agencies recognize MCS. Yet, many with moderate to severe MCS (also known as Environmental Illness [EI]) are unable to receive healthcare because facilities are inaccessible to them and most healthcare providers have little understanding of their needs.

Petrochemical-related, synthetic, and industrial chemicals are known to cause a variety of health effects in humans. With the number of these chemicals having increased drastically since World War II, the need to consider chemical exposures as part of the diagnostic process has never been greater.

The current medical model is primarily focused on determining what biological (bacteria, virus, etc.) or psychological (stress, mood disorders, etc.) factors are the cause of a particular malady. The next step is usually to treat the symptoms with pharmaceutical medication and make the patient feel better in the short-term without ever taking an exposure history. Failing to investigate causes outside the conventional medical paradigm can result in the devastating error of mistaking chemical causation for biological or psychological events, denying sufferers the advantage of early detection, resulting in serious health decline.

With some 11 million Americans moderately to severely affected by MCS and chronic illness and disability on the rise, the medical profession must take the initiative to improve prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.


The majority of MCS sufferers report enjoying good health, regular physical activity, and community participation prior to their illness. Progressive, multi-system symptoms commonly appear during or after exposure to new construction, renovation, and/or the installation of new carpeting. Natural gas, formaldehyde, mold, and pesticides are also commonly linked to sensitivities and symptoms.

Those with MCS tend to suffer immediate, painful, debilitating, and surprisingly long-lasting reactions to levels of substances understood to be unhealthy for others only at higher levels. … No body system is left untouched by this illness. Cognition, memory, and motor skills are affected. Cardiac, sensory, digestive, mood, reproductive, musculoskeletal, and nervous/mood symptoms are common. Degeneration of nearly every aspect of the human organism has been reported.

One of the most reliable signs of MCS and related intolerances is that symptoms diminish or resolve completely when inhaled and dietary triggers are avoided.

Symptoms of chemical exposure and MCS can easily be misdiagnosed as other common conditions, such as influenza, allergic rhinitis, viral pneumonia, sinus infections, heatstroke, and anxiety.

However, as of this writing, no single diagnostic test has been found to prove MCS as a disabling condition, but when specialized testing is used, the invisible suddenly becomes visible.

Nutrition and metabolic testing help determine deficiencies and inform supplementation. Not all tests are demonstrative of clinical dysfunction in all patients, and some require extensive testing. Determining which triggers cause symptoms is the best protection for a patient's health.


Avoidance of trigger substances appears more effective than symptom suppression. If avoidance of a particular substance reduces symptoms, it is as important a medical treatment as any other.

Fresh air, clean water, and pure food are by definition free of troublesome contaminants. While it is an age-old fact that humans need clean air, water, and food for good health, some skeptics are unable to grasp the idea that MCS sufferers seem to require such health-supporting things to a more substantial degree than others.

The ability of some chemicals to stress detoxification mechanisms, such as glutathione conjugation, may explain why some patients with MCS experience helpful benefits from glutathione supplementation. Oxygen, especially using nontoxic tubing, can be very helpful in quieting symptoms. Many sufferers also benefit from saunas and other detoxification protocols, however, detoxification should be carefully monitored in extremely ill patients who can get worse if they detoxify too quickly.

Modern healthcare professionals may be perplexed to find that many standard treatment protocols do not help, and sometimes hurt, the chemically injured. The best treatment for those with MCS remains the identification and avoidance of as many pollutants/chemicals, allergens, and triggers as possible.