NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Frivolities

December 27, 1995

The medical community says it doesn't exist, but those who claim to suffer from "Multiple Chemical Sensitivity" (MCS) syndrome are out to obtain unlimited control over how people wash their clothes, fix their hair and scent their persons.

This small but dedicated band claims that scented products are damaging to public health and should be banned. But one expert says that the whole thing is no more than "a name in search of a disease." And the American Medical Association's Council of Scientific Affairs concluded in 1992 that MCS "should not be considered a recognized clinical syndrome."

Yet MCS activists are busy mounting their campaign against fragrances of any kind:

  • A group calling itself The Human Ecology Action League has proclaimed that "perfume is going to be the tobacco smoke of tomorrow."
  • An activist for another group claims that perfume causes brain damage and anyone so scented should be banned from theaters.
  • Others have claimed they were traumatized and severely injured by perfume and other scents.

The MCS bandwagon is propelled in part by the vague guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Although other federal agencies have yet to take official notice of MCS, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has done so.

  • It tossed a $1.2 million grant to Marin County, California, to build an Ecology House for syndrome sufferers.
  • Although the builder spent nearly $10,000 extra per apartment on hypoallergenic building materials, two-thirds of the residents claimed to be worse off in their so-called chemical-free apartments than in their previous dwellings.
  • One critic suggested that these residents may have some kind of anxiety disorder which the government was treating by feeding their misperceptions.
  • HUD is also subsidizing the monthly rent of the residents and justifying it by noting that even if the residents' illnesses are only psychological, the victims are still eligible for assistance.

On other fronts, a woman in southern California obtained a $70,000 settlement from a perfume company after a co-worker refused to stop wearing perfume. She has now filed another lawsuit after being exposed to new carpet. Lawyers are holding workshops to advise MCS complainants on how to blanket their communities with lawsuit threats.

Some critics have noted that one of the more common complaints of MCS sufferers is "brain fog."

Source: James Bovard, "Get a whiff of This!" Wall Street Journal, December 27, 1995.


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