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General Information

Environmental sensitivities are a range of reactions to environmental factors including chemicals, foods, biological agents and electromagnetic radiation, at levels of exposure tolerated by many people. It encompasses a range of overlapping chronic conditions such as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and Electromagnetic Sensitivity.

Description of environmental sensitivities

Nowhere to run, Nowhere to hide…

Environmental sensitivities is a painful, chronic, multi-system condition that can develop in people of all ages, often following either a single massive exposure or repeated low level exposures to chemicals commonly released into the environment.

Sufferers then become sensitive to substances or phenomena in their everyday environment at levels well below what would be considered to be acceptable to “normal” people. Sensitivity reactions (1) can be triggered by scented products, cleaning products, laundry detergents, paints, petrochemicals, cigarette smoke, pesticides, pets, plants, fuels, electromagnetic radiation, molds and foods.

The effects of environmental sensitivities can be overwhelming. Productive people may suddenly or gradually become unable to tolerate offices, homes, schools, hospitals and public places. Employers, who may or may not be aware of the problem, may refuse to make the accommodations necessary to allow people affected to continue working in safety. Many people with sensitivities lose their jobs if they are not provided with the accommodations they need to work productively. Some become homeless. All too often, retirement savings are depleted and debts are incurred in attempts to create safe living conditions and to fund the costs of treatment. Treatment of these problems can be expensive and difficult to obtain, and includes avoidance of offending agents. Some people with sensitivities do improve after many years if they are able to find a safe environment in which to live and work, and if they can obtain (and afford) treatments that are both tolerable and effective for them. Sadly, despite skills and education, some people with sensitivities end up on social assistance. Many become socially isolated as they are forced to retreat from places and activities they love, and for some, the devastation extends to losing spouses, family and friends who may not believe that they are ill.

The disability may be invisible, but it is real. Like others with disabilities, persons with sensitivities have special needs which include, but are not limited to: housing in a safe and tolerable environment so that their bodies can heal, well-tolerated, environmentally safe products available at a reasonable cost, self-help groups, a support system, tolerable meeting places, publicly funded treatments, safe hospitals, schools and other public facilities, and accommodation in the workplace. Like all Canadians, we are entitled to freedom from discriminatory treatment, which includes the right to accessible workplaces, accommodation and public facilities. Notably, environmental sensitivities has been recognized as a disability by the Canadian Human Rights Commission and many provincial human rights commissions.

ASEQ-EHAQ receives many calls for help from persons with environmental sensitivities. There is no comprehensive treatment center in Quebec for these people. Most conventional medical doctors have not been trained to recognize or treat environmental sensitivities. Generally, hospitals are not equipped to accommodate persons with sensitivities, although health care is considered a universal right.

On the other hand, the Nova Scotia Environmental Health Centre (NSEHC), a Government funded Health Clinic, conducts research, and provides treatment support and help for people suffering from environmental sensitivities. Ontario has a provincially funded and mandated, academically-affiliated Environmental Health Clinic at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, which provides diagnosis, support and help for people suffering from environmental sensitivities. In addition to conducting research, holding workshops and teaching in Medical Schools.

The Canadian Medical Association has indicated that “there are many physicians who are acutely aware of the problems of environmental sensitivities … have expertise in this area and are addressing the needs of s with … sensitivities”. The Ontario College of Family Physicians trains doctors to recognize and treat environmental sensitivities. In Ottawa, several doctors treat s with sensitivities and report that they have several thousand s each. Many Quebecers travel there at their own expense for consultation and treatment.

It is time now for Quebec to take care of the chemically injured.

If you or your family or friends have environmental sensitivities, we urge you to contact us for assistance. We also need the talents and skills of those of you who are well, whether you are family or friends who wish to help, or you are simply concerned about the effects of the environment on human health.

(1) http://www.cdha.nshealth.ca/environmental-health-centre

Possible symptoms include:

  • Nervous system – heightened sense of smell; difficulty concentrating and/or remembering; variability in mental processing; feeling dull, groggy or spacey; headache, pain, restlessness, hyperactivity, agitation, insomnia, depression, lack of coordination or balance, anxiety, seizures, tinnitus, fatigue, tension, confusion, memory loss, dizziness.
  • Upper Respiratory System – stuffy nose, itchy nose (the “allergic salute”), blocked ears, sinus stuffiness, pain, infections.
  • Lower Respiratory System – cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, heavy chest, asthma, frequent bronchitis or pneumonia.
  • Eyes – red, watery eyes; dark circles under eyes, pain in eyes, disturbed vision.
  • Gastrointestinal System – excessive salivation, heartburn, nausea, bloating, constipation, abdominal pain, diarrhea.
  • Endocrine System – fatigue, lethargy, blood sugar fluctuations.
  • Musculoskeletal System – joint and muscle pain in the extremities and/or back, muscle twitching, spasm or weakness, swollen limbs.
  • Cardiovascular System – Rapid or irregular heartbeat, cold extremities, high or low blood pressure.
  • Skin (Integumentary System) – flushing (whole body, or isolated, such as ears, nose or cheeks), hives, eczema, other rashes, itching.
  • Genitourinary System – frequency and urgency to urinate, painful bladder spasms.

Some factors which contribute to the development of ES:

  • Exposure to chemicals such as solvents and pesticides or biological contaminants such as mold.
  • Long term exposure to low levels of hazardous substances. Chronic low level exposure, at work and at home.
  • A single overwhelming exposure such as a chemical spill.

Canadian Human Rights Commission – Reports:
(You can obtain a copy of these reports at no charge at: 1-888-214-1090 then select ‘publications’.)

Click on the links below for the full reports!

Accommodation for Environmental Sensitivities: Legal Perspective
The Medical Perspective of Environmental Sensitivities
Policy on Environmental Sensitivities

Recent publication and references

Ressources

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Definition of EMS

Definition of EMS

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Prevalence

Extract from «The Medical Perspective on Environmental Sensitivities» by Margaret E. Sears (M.Ing., Ph.D.) Mai 2007     Read the...
Statistics

Statistics

Canadian Statistics 2005 National Survey of the Work and Health of Nurses 3.6% of all Canadian nurses experienced chemical sensitivities...