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Rocky Mountain Environmental Health Association

Accommodating People with EI and/or MCS

What is Environmental Illness?:

People who are "environmentally ill" (EI's) or "environmentally intolerant" ("EI") are susceptible to adverse health reactions if exposed to various factors in their environment that most people may not even notice, especially chemicals found in many everyday products. EI's who react to chemicals are said to have "multiple Chemical Sensitivity" or "MCS". People with MCS may become ill from artificial or natural fragrances or other ingredients that they may become exposed to in your presence from personal care and laundry products that you may have used. They may also be intolerant to a wide variety of household and industrial products such as air fresheners, new carpet, paint or newly-constructed buildings.

Many common perfumes, air fresheners, fabric softeners, etc. can be toxic, some of them being petroleum-based neurotoxins. Few laws have been passed to protect you, the consumer, from these hazards. The average person can adapt functionally to a large extent to the toxins and other physiological challenges in our environment. In contrast, the EI suffers from impaired physiological defenses and their bodies cannot adequately protect themselves.

In addition to chemicals, an individual may be mildly to severely sensititive to animal dander, pollen, dust or mold. He/she may be reactive to "flickering" patterns of light too fast for the eye to see, such as those produced by computer screens, TVs and fluorescent lights. If he/she reacts to powerlines, electric wiring, electronic equipment, cell phones etc. they may be said to have "EMF" sensitivity. Many also have to restrict themselves to special diets.

Reactions may be acute or chronic, mild or severe, immediate, delayed or cumulative. They may last minutes to weeks. It may be difficult for those with delayed or cumulative reaction patterns to assess in great detail what they're reactive to. They may need to avoid some suspected substances on a pre-emptive basis.

Encountering People with EI:

Situations which could place you in repeated proximity to people with EI include (but are not limited to):

Since these issues often involve personal care products and habits, "smells" and other issues of a personal and delicate nature, it can be awkward for both parties to talk about them.

It is hoped that this web page may serve as a starting point in helping you to determine what sort of accommodation may be needed.

How to be "Safe" for an EI:

Follow the tips listed below. When in doubt, it is usually best to err on the side of caution, especially for a first meeting. If the EI is uncomfortable around you, you may not be invited into their company again. It is generally best to be thoroughly chemical-free & fragrance-free the first time you meet an EI. Don't fudge here or there, thinking, "they won't notice". Instead, ask in advance if any of the guidelines below may be loosened and if there are any other concerns you need to be aware of. Then, as you grow to know and trust each other, you may be able to work together to find alternatives that work for both of you. You may want to ask the EI to supply required products or to help pay for their additional cost. (Products that don't bother EIs are generally referred to as "safe" products.) It is reasonable to ask questions of the EI or manufacturer about how any suggested product may affect your hair, skin or clothing. (Many pamphlets on this subject suggest products that may be harsh to your skin or hair).

The task of accommodating an EI may seem daunting at first, because it may represent a big change from what you are used to. Once it becomes a regular habit, you may find it even easier (and healthier) than the way you do things now.

The following should help your contacts with EIs to be successful ones:

Perfume, Cologne, Essential Oils: The most important rule is DON'T wear these or other scented products. Be sure any clothes you may have worn when you have used scented products are laundered (see below). Although the best quality essential oils are natural and free of some of the more toxic ingredients, most EIs can't tolerate them (or even flowers). You can ask.

Clothing: After your wash cycle, run your laundry through a cycle with just 1/2 cup baking soda (for a full load). Then run your clothes through the rinse cycle. This will help to remove residual tobacco smoke, fragrances and chemicals left from your personal care products and from your laundry soap. Very important : Do NOT use fabric softeners/dryer sheets in the washer or the dryer!

If you can still smell your perfume, deodorant, etc. after laundering, it needs some more serious soaking, either in baking soda or some other agent Fabric softener is especially toxic and sticky. If you've been using fabric softener, pre-soak and wash your clothes several times with 1/2 cup of baking soda (soak for a few hours each time) then launder as above. For some less chemically sensitive EIs, the one cycle with baking soda after your wash may be enough, especially if you're meeting outdoors.

For more sensitive EIs, if you use a public dryer or if your dryer has been recently run with fabric softener, the following will help remove the residue from the dryer: Insert a rag soaked with distilled white vinegar in the empty dryer and run through one cycle, remove, then dry your clothes.

Another option is to simply hang dry your clothing.

If you give up scented products and fabric softener altogether, launder your clothes at home and switch to one of following laundry soaps, you can probably start omitting the extra step of the baking soda. This will make laundering easier.

Arm & Hammer "Fabricare Free"® laundry soap is especially convenient because it's available at both conventional and natural food stores, contains baking soda and works better on grease and animal dander than many natural brands. Arm & Hammer comes in several varieties, so be sure to choose "Fabicare Free" which is the unscented one. Even so, a few sensitive EIs may be uncomfortable if you don't use a second rinse.

Planet® brand is available in natural food stores and has no residual odor after one rinse. Conventional grocery stores carry All "Free & Clear"®. You may want to ask your EI for the names of laundry soaps to which they don't react.

Once laundered, protect your clothes from contact with other clothing, air fresheners, pets (if your EI is sensititive), etc. until you are bathed and ready to put them on. (Keeping them in a sealed bag will help)

Avoid wearing dry-cleaned clothes and fresh shoe polish.

Bathing: Generally, it should not be necessary to be harsh to your skin and hair to be safe. Granny's "Rich & Radiant"® shampoo (pH balanced at 5.5) can be ordered through natural food stores or from Granny's Old Fashioned Products® (1-800-366-1762)

It is best to avoid using a creme rinse, conditioner, styling gel or hairspray for your first visit unless your EI has suggested safe products. Keep it simple, make it easy. No EI is likely to complain if your hair isn't conditioned or styled.

Some people like to comb gelatin through their hair to make it hold its shape. (Since it can attract insects, it is recommended only for indoor wear.) Water soluble K-Y jelly® is a good non-scented substitute which should not attract bugs. (Some generic K-Y products are scented, so be cautious if you go this route.

Clearly Natural® brand soap (check label for the "unscented" variety) and Sappo Hill® brands soap (check label carefully for "natural" variety) are well distributed to natural food stores and are well tolerated by EIs. It may also help to rinse hair and body well when finishing bathing.

Many natural food stores carry "deodorant stones" or "crystal deodorants". They become slippery when wet and glide on like a roll-on, applying a thin film of mineral deposits which inhibit the growth of the bacteria that cause perspiration odors. They can be applied all over and are quite effective. DSA® makes a very good one called the "THAI"® deodorant stone in various sizes. Baking soda is a little harder to apply but cheaper and is sold everywhere. Mix with water to make a thin paste and apply to underarm areas. Both options are extremely well tolerated by EIs. Unless you perspire a lot, or live where it's hot and humid! using no deodorant at all will probably go over just fine. Like most deodorants, most antiperspirants contain fragrances.

If dry skin lotion is needed, pure vegetable glycerin, available in most natural food stores, makes a good lotion for dry skin if needed. Wet skin a little, rub water in until skin is almost dry, then rub in glycerin. A dime-sized blob in the center of one hand is usually enough to do both hands. As you rub, it will eventually absorb enough to where it won't come off on things you touch, even when it still feels like it will.

Shaving: After-shave is a no-no since all brands we know of are scented. After-shaves are used to close up the skin pores after shaving, so try splashing cold water on your face. (Even if it seems less dress-uppish.)

Pets: Ask the EI if they are sensititive to your pets. If they are very sensititive, avoid bringing animal dander into their home or into close contact with them. Once washed, protect yourself and your clothes from contact with pets or with furniture or car seats that have been in contact with your pets etc. Avoid tracking pet dander from your home or car into the EI's home.

Feminine Hygiene: Choose unscented sanitary napkins or tampons.

EMF: If you are used to carrying a cell phone or other electronic equipment, ask if this too may present a problem. If so, arrange to have your cell phone or computer turned off during your visit. Electronic wristwatches usually are not a problem unless you will be in very close proximity to the EI.

The Day of Your Visit: Avoid contact with tobacco smoke. Avoid cleaning products, air fresheners, pesticides or other chemicals. Avoid stores and other places where these things may be in the air and may be absorbed by your clothing. Avoid contact with scented hand or dishwashing soap, either at home or in public restrooms. Avoid walking across grass, as most grassy areas are sprayed. If you see tree spraying ahead, roll up your car windows!

Additional Tips: Ask your EI about any questions or concerns you may have. They may be able to supply you with a list of products which are safe for them. It is quite reasonable to ask an EI to supply you with products or to help you with the cost of obtaining them. You also have a right to question any products you think might not be good for you, such as an alkaline shampoo that might strip your hair.

It may also be useful to remember that just because a product is labeled "safe", "non-toxic", "natural", "unscented" or "fragrance free" doesn't mean that it is, or that your EI will not react to it.

Have a safe and successful meeting.


®: The names of these products and companies are presumed to be registered trademarks of the respective companies who manufacture and/or market the products.

Copyright © 2004 Purple Pigwing Productions, All rights reserved


Chris Stevenson

Production of this document was paid for by the family of C. Stevenson. Please call 303-277-8259 for information on restrictions on its reproduction, publication and use.

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Follow the links below to learn more about RMEHA and Environmental Illness.

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Revised '18-Dec-2011,15:47:48'