Many would answer that question with the reply, “if you can’t smell it, it isn’t really clean.” That has become the insidious banner of cleaning product ads and commercials for what feels like decades now. But is that really true? I looked up the definition of the word “clean” in one dictionary and it defined the meaning as this: free from dirt; free of foreign or extraneous matter; free from pollution; pure; unadulterated. Given that definition, one has to then ask themselves if something has perfumes, fragrant dyes and chemicals added to it, does that make it somehow more clean? Just because you can now smell it? And, can it really be said to be free of extraneous matter, pollution….or here’s one: pure? When we think of going out to the forest or up to the mountains and breathing in the fresh clean air and scent of the pine trees that is a whole lot different than opening up a bottle of Pine Sol. Have you ever thought what they have to add to that particular type of cleaner to get it to smell like that? Frankly you probably don’t want to know.
So, you are no doubt wondering where I am going with all of this when I usually talk about my cats, my writing and my other various sundry activities. Well, you see, I am a sufferer of MCSS. For those of you who are not familiar with that acronym, it stands for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome. It is a miserable, frustrating condition that can leave you feeling like you need to live on a desert island or inside a plastic bubble. It adversely affects many aspects of life for those who suffer from it. The reason? MCSS is an extreme sensitivity or hypersensitivity to certain chemical odors and affects 17 – 34 % of Americans annually. This condition is particularly prevalent among the individuals who suffer from fibromyalgia and other auto-immune conditions. I count myself in that group as I have both fibromyalgia and systemic lupus. I have long suffered with neck and back problems resulting in headaches and have come to identify that many times the fragrances and chemicals I come into contact with are the trigger for those symptoms.
The main culprits of this trigger for MCSS patients are fuel, herbicides and pesticides, perfumes, food additives, carpets, painting supplies and building materials. I might also add laundry detergents and dryer sheets, body lotions, body sprays and heavily perfumed deodorants and hair gel. Now you understand why I say one feels as though they need to live on a desert island. It’s almost impossible to get away from this stuff. Sadly, for MCSS sufferers it can just take a drop or a whiff to set us off. When I am in an enclosed area where there is a lot of people with fragrance on, I immediately feel my neck start to spasm and the headache sets in sending a pain up over the right side of my head. My heart will then start to palpitate and my face will feel warm. Within just a few minutes I can feel my strength go out of me. I know of someone who when they are exposed to these chemicals their strength starts to wane and their leg will give way. The cognitive difficulties it can cause is not only embarrassing but also very inconvenient. As you read on and see what some of these chemicals cause you will be able to see why they have the effect on the body that they do in some individuals. Also, you will be helped to understand why someone who regularly wears fragrance and then doesn’t wear it on a certain day will still carry the scent on their clothes, still effecting a reaction in a sensitive individual.
Unfortunately the increase in the concentrated use of these additives in everyday essential products correlates with many people’s sensitivities. Did you know that they now have toilet paper that you can buy that is scented? Yep! The whole idea is that as you pull it off the roller it emits a fragrant odor into your own personal space. Fortunately I haven’t had to be exposed to that little invention as of yet, but I’m sure it will come at some point. First of all, with all the talk about having ‘comfy’, ‘cushioning’ T.P., why would you want to be adding a chemical that will be touching… um… well, how do I say it… a rather delicate area? Yikes, get me outta here!!
I can’t fail to mention what seems to be the biggest source of chemical pollution to the world we live in and that is the plug-in air fresheners. You know the ones I mean, they line the air freshener aisles in the grocery store in every scent made possible. These are advertised in the hopes that you will believe that if you have these in your home it will add ambiance to it, your family will be happier and above all that you will be viewed as the ‘queen of clean’. The whole purpose is that once you plug them in, the heat from the electrical outlet emits a fragrant oil into the room on a continual basis with the whole premise that your house now smells clean and fresh. So what it’s really saying is that whether you’ve really cleaned your house or not, it is clean because after all it smells clean. But, really you can hang up or plug in all the air fresheners you want, if the cat’s litter box needs cleaning out or the garbage needs to be taken out….well, nothing is going to change that. You are just masking it and at the same time polluting your environment with some really dangerous chemicals.
If you would like to know just how dangerous these chemicals are, I would like to share with you the results of some studies that have been done since toxic chemical awareness has made its debut a few years ago. I have done some research on this subject by way of the internet and have found a number of researchers who have published their findings. I found it disturbing but at the same time liberating because I knew there was valid reason for my body to react the way it does. The next four paragraphs were taken from an article dealing with dangerous chemicals and how they create havoc with people’s health. I’ve left the quotes on to show that.
“A study of top-selling laundry products and air fresheners found the products emitted dozens of different chemicals. All six products tested gave off at least one chemical regulated as toxic or hazardous under federal laws, but none of those chemicals was listed on the product labels.
“I first got interested in this topic because people were telling me that the air fresheners in public restrooms and the scent from laundry products vented outdoors were making them sick,” said Anne Steinemann, a University of Washington professor of civil and environmental engineering and of public affairs. “And I wanted to know, ‘What’s in these products that is causing these effects?'”
Manufacturers of consumer products are not required to disclose the ingredients, so Steinemann analyzed the products to discover their contents.
“I was surprised by both the number and the potential toxicity of the chemicals that were found,” Steinemann said. Chemicals included acetone, the active ingredient in paint thinner and nail-polish remover; limonene, a molecule with a citrus scent; and acetaldehyde, chloromethane and 1,4-dioxane. Nearly 100 volatile organic compounds were emitted from the six products, and none were listed on any product label, she said. Plus, five of the six products emitted one or more carcinogenic “hazardous air pollutants,” which are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to have no safe exposure level, Steinemann said.
Here’s an additional interesting tidbit. You know those dryer sheets that are supposed to make your clothes all “fresh smelling” and soft to the touch? Well you might want to think again before you add these to your next grocery list. Dryer sheets contain 50 times as much fragrance just to cover up the chemicals that are in them. Here are some of the ones found in them:
Benzyl acetate – linked to pancreatic cancer; Benzyl Alcohol – upper respiratory tract irritant; Ethanol – on the Environmental Protection Agency’s waste list and can cause central nervous system disorders; Limonene – known carcinogen; A-Terphineol – can cause respiratory problems including fatal edema, and central nervous system damage; Chloroform – neurotoxic, anesthetic and carcinogenic; and here’s one that really slays me…Pentane – a chemical known to be harmful if inhaled. Isn’t the whole purpose of a perfumed dryer sheet so that you can inhale the wonderful ‘fragrant’ vapors off your clothes? There’s more on the list, but space eludes me listing them all. During my research I also found out that these dryer sheets contain a wax coating which explains their rather sticky feel. This waxed sheet then coats the lint trap which can prevent air from flowing freely. Voila! A discovery was made that these can also cause dryers to catch on fire. This is not privileged information, I encourage you to do your own research, especially if you have some mysterious unexplained health symptoms that are troubling your life. Let’s face it, who of us doesn’t want to feel better? However, if you still are of the mind you have to use an anti-static product or clothes softener in your clothes washing, try white vinegar. Just add to the fabric softener compartment of you machine and it will run through during the rinse. Works well and with no harmful effects.
Sometimes these environmental ailments can feel like a totally losing battle to the one who suffers from them. It can make you feel like you need to find a safe zone and stay protected as you’re already suffering enough without making it worse by extra exposure. But, realistically life doesn’t always afford us that luxury if you will. It’s not like we WANT to have this reaction, we aren’t looking for sympathy and we certainly aren’t making this stuff up. I think if I wanted to come up with something that would give me attention I’d have to come up with something less constraining than this. Frankly, it’s a miserable ailment and causes me to sometimes have to pre-think and at times over-think my next decision as to whether I am going to go somewhere. I refuse to let it control my life, but at the same time I know if I don’t take some precautions it will cause further implications for me.
The interesting thing about all this is like many of you I also use to use chemical cleaning products, (I grew up with a mother who sprayed Lysol the minute we got the flu) wear perfume and get excited at the thought of getting new carpet and furniture. But, it wasn’t until I had been sick for a number of years with lupus and fibromyalgia that my Naturopath began examining to see if some of my triggers could be environmental. Believe me, I did NOT want to hear this. He had a very hard time convincing me that the things I was around and thought I loved were making me even sicker. No way, I said. Well, that is exactly what was happening. The Naturopath told me that it is actually easier to help a patient deal with cancer than it is this type of environmental illness. First of all, you can’t see it. Therefore the sympathy and empathy is not nearly as forthcoming. It was a long and arduous road learning about all this, retraining not only myself but my husband as well. Now that he’s been away from these toxins to a large degree, he even finds himself getting a headache when exposed to perfumes, dryer sheets and so forth. While he doesn’t have the chronic health issues I do, he certainly is supportive and serves as an emotional advocate for me. I am grateful. He understands that when someone says “well, I just put a little on”, that in my case, it’s not about just a little, it’s about any at all. I am just that sensitive.
So in conclusion I want to say that it took me a lot of time to build up my nerve to write about this subject. I love my friends and want to meet new people and to be able to live life to the fullest. It’s not my intention to sound like I am on a soapbox or to offend anyone, but I want people to know that there are a number of us who suffer from this MCSS. If we have to step away from someone when they are wearing fragrance it’s not the person we are backing off from, it’s in an effort to not get sick. People need people, that’s a fact and oh how we benefit physically, mentally and emotionally from being with other humans. Thankfully there has been some recognition on the part of doctors, scientists and support groups, and in all fairness some manufacturers. But, by and large we know that profit is still the main concern behind a product and it’s advertising efforts. There are products out there that are free from these chemicals and perfumes, but it may take a little effort to locate the stores which stock them. Although, more and more stores are carrying environmentally safe and ‘free and clear’ products. Hopefully in the future they will have the corner on the market helping not only those of us who suffer now from this, but will contribute to better health and cleaner living for all.
To Green, Clean, & Scent Free Living!