HeadLice.org logo
HeadLice.Org Hot Spots

Canadian Human Rights Commission commissioned Report to summarize scientific information about environmental sensitivities

May 07 2007;  AEHA QUEBEC

Montreal, Québec - May 7, 2007 - The Allergy and Environmental Health Association of Quebec (AEHAQ) applauds and commends the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) for its outstanding Report entitled 'The Medical Perspective on Environmental Sensitivities,' by Margaret E. Sears (M.Eng., Ph.D.). AEHAQ also wishes to congratulate and thank the author of the report and the prominent physicians and architects who collaborated on the project, for presenting the complete picture of this illness in very clear terms. This report confirms what people who suffer from environmental sensitivities already know - that avoidance of toxins and other triggers is key to management of environmental sensitivities. Accommodation provided to people with environmental sensitivities to improve environmental quality in the workplace is likely to improve the performance of other workers as well, and in addition may help prevent the onset of sensitivities in others.

"Environmental sensitivities" describes a range of reactions to environmental factors including chemicals, foods, biological agents, and electromagnetic radiation, at levels of exposure tolerated by most people. It includes overlapping chronic conditions such as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), Electromagnetic Sensitivity, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and Fibromyalgia.

MCS is a disorder that occurs when people become sensitive to chemical exposures in their everyday environment at levels well below those commonly tolerated or considered acutely toxic.

Statistics Canada reported in January 2007 that approximately 3% of Canadians have been diagnosed with MCS, which commonly overlaps with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. 5% of Canadians (1.2 million people) have been diagnosed with at least one of these disorders. Of the 5% of Canadians diagnosed, 2.4% reported MCS, 1.5% FM and 1.3% CFS. Among these individuals, at least 14% had two of the three conditions. Overall prevalence rose with age from 1.6% at ages 12 to 24 to 6.9% at ages 45 to 64.

As with any other illness, a key for healing is recognition of the illness and provision of adequate care of an equal standard across the country. AEHAQ strongly advocates for the Government of Canada to take responsibility for the many Canadians who suffer with MCS and to push vigorously for MCS to be included in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10) which is published by the World Health Organization. Further, it is vital that MCS be supported by the federal government for inclusion in provincial health care billing codes.

Dr. Lynn Marshall, who represented the Ontario College of Family Physicians Environmental Health Committee among collaborators on the report, indicated that she was pleased that the Canadian Human Rights Commission had undertaken such a sorely needed literature review and summary of the complex clinical issues surrounding environmental sensitivities. "I was impressed with the thoroughness of the scientific review by Dr. Sears, which should be of major help in guiding physicians, other health professionals, employers, insurers, and governments to take accelerated action to serve the urgent needs of this largely overlooked population of patients."

Rohini Peris, President, AEHAQ states, "The Report clearly shows that we need immediate action to address this issue - not more committees and deliberations, but tangible, constructive help such as providing safe, less chemically contaminated, affordable housing, adequate clinics, and accommodation in the workplace, hospitals and all public areas." She adds, "More than a million Canadians diagnosed with MCS represent a large, unnecessary and avoidable tragedy, as well as a drain on society and the economy."

Michel Gaudet, Vice-President and spokesperson for AEHAQ adds, "This report clearly shows that the time is now for the Government of Canada to implement legislation that will result in increased public health protection. It is time to reduce the quantities and variety of toxic chemicals in products, buildings, landscapes and foods, as Canadians move to using only least-toxic strategies, products and materials."

A survey of its members done by AEHA Québec (129 responses; 57% response rate) showed that 81% are women, 56% are college/university-educated and 17% are post-graduates. They have worked in a variety of professions such as medicine, physiotherapy, psychotherapy, the military, administration, real estate, factory workers, aerospace, farming, etc. 53% are unemployed because they are now unable to work due to their poor health, while many others are underemployed compared to their previous accomplishments.

Those who must, and are still able to work, find it very hard to continue gainful employment due to a lack of workplace accommodation. A few are accommodated with adequate ventilation, perfume-, pesticide- and smoke-free policies, the use of non-toxic cleaning products, use of safe products for renovation, and appropriate notice during and after renovations. A majority were unable to find a safe, chemical-free workplace where they could work productively to support themselves and their families. The majority of those with gainful employment work from home.

98.5 % of respondents had neurological symptoms brought on by exposure to chemicals found in a variety of consumer goods. 99.2% of people could identify specific exposures which they thought had made them ill. Of these, 38% blamed exposures to commonly encountered chemicals, 35% to pesticides and 26% to work-related exposures. The longest that participants had been impaired/disabled was 22 years.

AEHAQ anticipates that the Province of Quebec will take appropriate notice of this Report. The AEHAQ looks forward to the Quebec government making the necessary changes required to address the problems faced by people who suffer from environmental sensitivities and taking steps to better manage this illness, as outlined in the Report. AEHAQ can attest to the fact that many of its members are suffering a great deal due to a lack of proper medical treatment in Quebec, non-existent support services and a lack of adequate accommodation in the workplace, schools and hospitals.

The Allergy and Environmental Health Association of Quebec was formed in October 2004 by people whose health has been damaged by a contaminated environment. AEHAQ is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness on issues surrounding environmental sensitivities, and, through support and information, helping people who have been incapacitated by exposures in toxic buildings or other contaminated environments. By working with doctors, scientists, interested groups and individuals across Canada and creating ties with similar organizations throughout North America and overseas, AEHAQ is promoting prevention, education and awareness within communities, corporations, governments, educational institutions, the medical profession and the general public, intending to prevent the onset of new cases of environmental sensitivity. Prevention encompasses the use of non-toxic products and methods which are sustainable and friendly to human health. We therefore urge the Province of Quebec to take immediate responsible and adequate care of its environmentally sensitive citizens.