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Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

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MCS Research and Definition

The medical community has long questioned the etiology of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) or Environmental Illness (EI). According to Cynthia Wilson of the Chemical Injury Information Network, as long ago as the 1950's physician's recognized that people were becoming sick due to their environment (http://www.ciin.org). There have been many theories regarding the cause of MCS but due to the lack of reliable scientific research, the medical community and the general public have failed to recognize the physiological effects of chemicals on the body.

In an article providing an overview of MCS, Cynthia Wilson states, "The latest research strongly suggests that chemical sensitivity is most probably some combination of central nervous system damage and enzyme deficiencies that can also cause problems with the endocrine and immune systems. Chemical sensitivity is more often than not characterized by real, verifiable damage to the body, though the implications of these anomalies are poorly understood and need additional research." (http://www.ciin.org). A researcher by the name of Dr. M.B. Lax of the Central New York Occupational Health Clinic offered his assessment of the current struggle in understanding MCS. In an article entitled, Multiple chemical sensitivities: The social construction of an illness, he wrote, "Multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) has emerged as an important and highly controversial issue in occupational health. Debate centers on whether the illness is "physical" or "psychological." A strong corporate-backed campaign has framed the debate and has pushed MCS advocates into a strategy of "proving the physical" nature of MCS." (http://www.fiscorp.net/iaq/iaqapps4.html).

An article published in the Archives of Environmental Health (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: A 1999 Concensus. 1999. Vol. 54, 147-149) provides information regarding a consensus reached by medical professionals who have agreed upon specific criteria to be used in determining a diagnosis of MCS based upon a study by Nethercott et al. published in the Archives of Environmental Health (Multiple Chemical Sensitivities Syndrome: Toward a working case definition. 1993. Vol. 48, 19-26). The criteria, in brief, require that symptoms are reproducible with repeated chemical exposure, the condition is chronic, symptoms result from low level exposure, symptoms improve or resolve when the irritant is removed, response occurs to multiple chemically unrelated substances and symptoms involve multiple organ systems.

Symptoms and Limitations

MCS or EI may develop from exposure to substances in the environment and may result in intolerance to even very low level exposure to chemicals. Symptoms can occur in more than one organ system in the body, such as the nervous system, the lungs and the vascular system. An individual may be exposed through contact with, ingestion of or inhalation of a specific or multiple irritants.

Limitations experienced due to MCS or EI are experienced by each person individually so it is important to evaluate each situation independently. Some of the more common symptoms that develop from exposure to problematic environmental substances may include one or many of the following: headache, nausea, respiratory difficulties, fatigue, dizziness, tightening of the throat, chronic laryngitis, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, rash or hives, arthritis-like sensations or muscle pain. Problematic environmental substances may include: fragrance chemicals used in perfumes, colognes, cleaning products and deodorizers; pesticides; fumes from building products, new furniture and carpet; and tobacco smoke among other irritants.

Accommodations for someone with MCS, should be considered on a case-by-case basis. The following pages provide accommodation ideas and product referrals based upon a non-inclusive list of functional limitations. The material is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered absolute solutions to all accommodation situations. In addition, you can find more information at JAN's A to Z Web page at: http://askjan.org/media/atoz.htm.

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