Sunday, May 6, 2012

How Many People are Unusually Sensitive to Chemicals?

A surprisingly large percentage of ingredients found in common products are untested, unregulated, and potentially unsafe. Sometimes people know that certain products cause them problems ("Strong perfume gives me a headache"), but often they don't think to associate a symptom with a chemical trigger.

Given that fact, it may be surprising to realize how many people self-identify as being unusually or especially sensitive to everyday chemicals. Studies of the general population have found rates that vary between 11 and 33 percent. The study that found the lowest rate (11%) asked separate questions in which 31% of respondents noted an aversion to scented products and 18% reported negative physical reactions to air fresheners.

Do you believe those statistics?  A lot of people evidently don't. There are reasons for the fact that chemical sensitivity is a largely hidden problem. Those who are most seriously affected by MCS must avoid the chemical exposures associated with public gatherings and as a result rarely come into contact with the general public. There are also reasons that those with lower levels of chemical sensitivities are sometimes hesitant to make their condition known.

Very often, people are afraid that talking about their chemical reactions will offend or inconvenience people, who may take requests to change their personal care products, for example, very personally. They often make the choice to pay a physical price to avoid that scenario. Also, MCS is not only poorly understood, but often ridiculed, so people may fear that speaking of their chemical sensitivities will earn them a label of crazy or manipulative.

If close to a third of the population identifies as being unusually sensitive to common chemicals or at least expresses an aversion to scented products, is it worth noting?  Is it possible that a few simple changes to a church building or other establishment could make a big difference for many people?  The issue of chemical contamination is a big one, but removing or replacing synthetically fragranced products is an easy place to start. Why don't we do it?  If the issue is disbelief of the extent of the number of people who are bothered, why not ask?  Poll your congregation or small group. Those who are most sensitive are probably staying away, and many who are being affected by chemicals probably haven’t yet made the connection. Still, I bet you'll be surprised at how many know they have reactions. They’ll be glad you brought it up.

No comments: