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Can Exposure to Chemicals Make You Sick?

by Stuart Lieberman

International Real Estate Digest

In recent years, a group of individuals have come forward who claim that they are chemically sensitive. Frankly, most of us have been insensitive to their concerns.

The number of people who claim that they suffer from a syndrome generally referred to as multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) is certainly hard to determine. But, with the advent of the Internet, these individuals have been able to communicate with one another. In some instances, it appears that the Internet has allowed people who thought that they alone suffered from these ailments to discover that they are not alone.

Often, people who assert that they have MCS claim that they have headaches and impaired motor skills. Others allege that they have vision problems, are nauseous and are unable to concentrate. Still others assert that there is a sense of confusion, that they suffer from respiratory ailments, and that they have nerve damage symptoms.

Three cheers for Canada who is decades ahead of the United States in this regard. Already it is not legal for people to wear perfume in public in certain Canadian cities. We can anticipate the same kinds of restrictions in this country; it will probably just take some time. But, people need to be aware that certain people are peculiarly sensitive to fragrances and other contaminants found in the environment. Why go out of your way to make these people ill?

Try filing a disability claim with MCS as a basis. It is not pretty. There are still so many people who doubt that this is a real problem and attorneys for employers are ready to urge that this is really another tactic to get free money for staying at home.

Exposure to harsh chemicals can cause health problems anywhere, whether the exposure is at home or the workplace. At home, people have become sick after exposure to pesticides, cleaning solutions, tobacco smoke, and, or course, fragrances. Do not forget that gas emissions from broken furnaces and wood burning stoves have also been linked to health problems.

The work place is also filled with environmental hazards. While many workers are provided with appropriate gear to guard against exposure, some have not been adequately protected and have become ill.

Take for example a recent case involving a major U.S. Airline. Two flight attendants from that Airline testified before a state Department Of Labor about alleged problems that current and former flight attendants were experiencing as a result of alleged toxic fumes in the cabin. According to that 1999 testimony, some flight attendants became ill and others alleged that they were permanently disabled as a result of exposure to air containing, allegedly, toxic fumes, that found its way to the cabin. According to published reports, flight attendants have been complaining of problems since 1989. Common among the complaints included headaches, impaired motor skills, blurred vision, confusion, twitching or tremors, and respiratory difficulties.

The extent of incapacitation has varied. Some have reported moderate symptoms lasting a short period, while others have alleged that symptoms have extended for a period of weeks. And some filed disability claims. According to a press release from the Flight Attendant's Union, it is alleged that the Airline was aware that lubrication oil and hydraulic fluids had entered the aircraft's ventilation system, making people ill. That is only an allegation. It is not known whether anyone has actually proven this allegation.

Nonetheless, in January of this year, the Airline made public a settlement that it had reached with twenty-six flight attendants paying $725,000.00 to settle these claims. The airline has not admitted any wrongdoing. This is a fairly new legal field and it is a fairly new scientific field.

But, as time passes, we are going to learn more about the kinds of chemicals which make people ill and the manners in which people become ill. As the science progresses so that more definite links can be made between chemicals deposited in our environment and particular ailments and illnesses experienced by those exposed to the chemicals, we should expect more claims for legal redress in our courts and more relief for those who have been truly injured.

Remember, just because a product has been approved for sale to the public and is legal to use, does not mean that it cannot hurt you if misused. Pay attention to exposure and ventilation requirements. Some products, even when used as instructed, can make people sick as well. So in the end, let the buyer beware.