Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: Exposures Part 4 of 7

Basically, chemical sensitivity is when a person begins developing negative reactions to chemicals in their lives. Low-level exposures happen every day multiple times for most people. Unfortunately, high-level exposure can happen during a spill, an environmental disaster, a workplace situation, or any experience in which a person receives a high dose of a chemical all at once in a short amount of time. Basically, MCS begins with either one high-dose or from long-term low-level exposure. 1 It can be on-the job, in a public/work building, or at home. It can be air or water. 2 It can be from eating or drinking contaminants in the food, water, or soil; breathing them in the air; and touching them in food, water, or soil or air. 3 These might be pesticides, cleansers, petrochemicals like gasoline, heating oil, kerosene, gas, or things like perfumes or industrial emissions, etc. 4 In addition, there are instances of exposure through anesthesia during surgery and even pharmaceutical drugs like an antibiotic. These are, after all, chemicals. We just don’t think of them in those terms or expect to have residual side effects that negatively impact our health for the rest of our lives.

The following list is not all-inclusive, but a sampling of what might “trigger” chemical sensitivity:

Natural gas




Vehicle exhaust (carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, benzene, formaldehyde, polycyclic hydrocarbons, PM-10)



Carpet (acetone, toluene, xylene, formaldehyde, benzene derivatives)


Particle Board (FOC’s, formaldehyde)

Rubber underlay & rubber backing in carpets


Plastic Foam

Electric Blankets




Antibacterial cleansers

Miscellaneous and frequently used household cleaning products like dishwasher detergent, etc. (diethyl phthalate, toluene, hexane/xylene)


Dust mites


Animal hair

Perfumes (benzaldehyde, benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, camphor, ethanol, ethyl acetate, limonene, linalool, a-pinene, g-terpinene, a-terpineol)

Soaps (cocoamide DEA, propylene glycol, sodium laurel sulfate, acetone, benzaldehyde)



Hair spray




Tobacco smoke (ammonia, acetaldehyde, acetone, benzene, butyraldehyde, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, nitric oxide, toluene)

Copier print, fumes, ink

Pesticides (DDT, Chlordane, Lindane, Dieldrin)

Fence/wood treatments




Marker pens

new clothes



food additives

food preservatives


unfiltered water 5, 6, 7

As of late 2002, researchers and medical professionals don’t really understand how or why some people become sensitive and others don’t. It is a complex combination of things that is unpredictable— genetic makeup, chemical exposure from pre-birth through present day, emotional make-up, stress, etc. Factors include the type of contaminant, how much entered your body, your developmental stage when exposure occurred, how long you were exposed, how many times you were exposed, and your individual health and how your body reacts to exposure. 8

The best description I’ve read of how chemicals react in the body is by Dr. Sherry Rogers’ in her book, Chemical Sensitivity, Environmental Diseases and Pollutants - How they hurt us, how to deal with them (1995). Rather than try to explain it, I suggest you read it for yourself. I’m not a chemist or a physician and would only add confusion to a wonderfully clear and articulate explanation. A recent hypothesis suggests that MCS is the end result of four different mechanisms of sensitization acting to reinforce one another. 9 Again, since I’m not a scientist or a physician or even a naturopath (I’m an educator), it’s best for you to go to the source and parse through the scientific language10 and/or read the study. 11

Based on my understanding, MCS develops in two stages: induction and triggering. Induction is the exposure stage from which the person develops a sensitivity to that chemical, then to other related chemicals. Triggering is when the person responds with symptoms when exposed to any of this class of chemicals. Finally, they react over time to other related chemicals. 12

Frequently, there are “life events” preceding sensitivity symptoms. I don’t find this revelatory or even informative and I especially don’t find it predictive of who might develop symptoms. Most people have had or have been exposed to a virus, including vaccinations, are in or have been in stressful situations, are or have been grieving something, have been or know someone in a traumatic situation, have undergone hormonal disturbances (adolescence), were introduced to food prematurely as an infant, have had an insect sting, have been treated with antibiotics, gained weight, lost weight, etc. For me, the following list of life events that may contribute to becoming sensitized reinforces the fact that we are all vulnerable:

1. Infection particularly viral.

2. Heavy chemical exposures, most noticeably pesticides and occupational exposures.

3. Prolonged stress and bereavement.

4. Massive trauma such as car accidents.

5. Hormonal disturbances - particularly those associated with pregnancy and after delivery, often after second baby.

6. Premature introduction of foods in infancy.

7. Insect stings.

8. Drug treatment including antibiotics.

9. Abrupt weight loss.

10. Extensive irradiation.

11. A family history of allergic disorders 13.


  2. Ibid

  3. ATSDR Exposure; Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 4770 Buford Hwy NE, Atlanta, GA 30341; ATSDR. Environmental chemical exposure: The basics. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services. Page last updated: July 7, 2014


  5. Ibid



  8. ATSDR Exposure; Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 4770 Buford Hwy NE, Atlanta, GA 30341; ATSDR. Environmental chemical exposure: The basics. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services. Page last updated: July 7, 2014





  13. Ibid

#MCSoverview #environmentalinjury #mcs #multiplechemicalsensitivity #MCSexposures #MCSpart4of7

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