One thing I know I will never change my mind on is how man-made fragrances (as in synthetic, in a lab) take away from my health and well being. I am not alone in this. Every couple of weeks I meet a new person who is somehow affected by this silent epidemic of fragrance sensitivity and what we should do to fight it. Fighting starts with knowledge and knowing what we are up against. Thankfully, over the past several years, the movement is starting to take hold, and places are starting to be more tolerant, though we aren’t done yet. This is my vision for a healthier, fragrance-free future in public places.
I once was asked what I would do If I knew I absolutely could not fail. In light of my disability, I decided that I would go to Washington right now and convince our nation’s politicians to recognize the CDC’s classification of chemical odors as an “indoor environmental pollutant” and take appropriate action to ban their use in public places.
Many scented products are now using petrochemicals, man-made substances refined from crude oil. Petrochemicals can range from anything like tar for paving roads, to gasoline, kerosene, and diesel that power our cars and homes. Petrochemicals can even be made into plastics, food additives, pharmaceuticals, paints, perfumes, cleaning supplies, cologne, hand sanitizer and synthetic flavors.
Some common petrochemicals are known to be neurotoxins and carcinogens. This means that they are toxic to the development and function of the brain as well as being cancer causing agents. Yet, we still use these products every day in almost every way. “Nearly 100 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were emitted from the products and five of the six products emitted one or more carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers to have no safe exposure level.” Petrochemicals are extremely pervasive, despite having myriad proven health effects.
Only recently in human history have we been able to begin to understand the relationship between environment and human health, with conditions such as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. MCS can include many symptoms from minor headaches when being exposed to perfume to severe migraines, torso pain, lung pain, heart pain, breathing problems, weight gain, and even death. According to the Rocky Mountain Environmental Health Association, “11 to 16 percent of the American Population is estimated to have heightened sensitivity to chemicals.”
Those with MCS or other environmental illnesses like asthma may experience a variety of symptoms when they come in contact with chemical odors like those found in scented products. Those with severe MCS may be so sick that they cannot even leave the house, and when they do come in contact with fragrances, the results can be devastating.
Entire families of MCS victims have to plan their lives around accommodating their loved ones. Family members have to take drastic measures to ensure they do not bring even a trace of toxic compounds into the household.
Even those without MCS are affected by the overuse of petrochemicals. Picture a coal miner and a canary going into the mine. If the canary dies, it is because there is an abundance of odorless, tasteless, colorless, and toxic gas around them. The canary is more sensitive to lower concentrations so it signals to the miners that they should leave the mine before it is too late for them too. Now picture those with MCS as the canary and the rest of the world as the miner. People are dying from these chemicals yet we are still in the mine. The rest of us need to get out before it is too late.
To finally push us out of the mine, I would use the infallibility so generously granted to me by this prompt, to inspire change in our nation’s policies. The national government should recognize the CDC’s classification of chemical odors as an indoor environmental pollutant and take appropriate action to ban their use in public places. For the first time in decades, many people would be able to safely leave their homes and venture into public places without fear. This new law would help people understand the dangers of toxic chemicals in our everyday products.
An already successful model of this policy is Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Canada. The year 2015 will mark the 24 year old ban on fragrances in public places. “An entire generation of young people have grown up without wearing scented body products.” Now the entire province has adopted the policy. Clearly, something positive is happening in Halifax. Let’s bring it to the United States.
Although I had other answers to this question like “develop an alternative to petrochemicals,” or “cure multiple chemical sensitivity,” I wanted to be practical and focus on something that I may be able to do some day. I want to major in Public Relations and get a Master’s Degree in Business Administration so that I can continue to develop my own company to help those with MCS. I started my website and company to help the cause, and I hope the education that I planned to receive in college would aid me in contributing my own voice to the national conversation of environmental quality. So far, I think I’m doing a good job
 (CDC 2013)
 (Steinemann 2008)
 (What is Environmental Illness? 2014)
 (Bjorn 2011)