Canadian auto union has produced a short workers guide to multiple chemical sensitivities

The CAW, the largest private sector union in Canada, has prepared information
on "Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome".

If you work in a building and have symptoms like these that happen when you
spend time in the building, and get better after you go home or on the weekend,
you may be experiencing the early signs of multiple chemical sensitivity:

  • Burning eyes, nose
  • - Headache
  • Cough, sore throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hoarseness
  • Sinus pain
  • Headache
  • Migraines
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Memory loss
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Aching muscles or joints
  • Skin disorders

Unlike a cold or the flu, symptoms do not clear up within days. After weeks or
months of exposure, symptoms may become chronic and only get better after a
very long time away from the building.

If this has happened to you, you could be experiencing what is often called
"environmental illness" or "multiple chemical sensitivity" or "sick building
syndrome". These are all terms to describe the problems of exposures to
chemicals that adversely affect our health.

Once you have been sensitized to chemicals at work, your sensitivities often
broaden to a wide variety of chemicals that in the past did not bother you.
These can range from perfumes to paints, from carpets to fuels.

The solution to the problems of multiple chemical sensitivity include these
prevention measures:

  • Better general ventilation. Workers need fresh air.
  • Local exhaust ventilation for sources of contaminants such as photocopiers.
  • Natural fibres for floor coverings and furniture.
  • Natural wall coverings rather than those that contain formaldehyde
  • Environmentally friendly cleaning products
  • Indoor plants to help clean the air
  • Banning pesticides, especially indoors, or at least severely restricting
    their use and using organic pest control wherever possible

If workers do contract multiple chemical sensitivity, they need:

  • The right to timely investigation of health complaints and resolution of
    workers' compensation claims
  • The right to be believed even though the precise original cause of the
    syndrome may never be determined
  • The right to participate in support groups with fellow sufferers
  • The right not be harassed or discriminated against in job assignments and
  • The right to job security, integrity and reasonable accommodation
  • The right not to be exposed to sensitizers such as cigarette smoke and

Once people have become sensitized through this workplace exposure, they can
develop sensitivities to a wide variety of workplace and non-workplace
chemicals from food additives to vehicle exhaust, from carpeting to caffeine,
at levels so low that other people can barely detect them. We must ensure that
these sensitized individuals are protected to the greatest extent possible.

Further Information

AplusA-online.de - Source: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work