Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Canaries in a Pot of Toxins

As a person with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity who is especially reactive to chemically-based fragrances, I am consistently dismayed by the overwhelming ubiquity of "air fresheners" in public and private spaces.

These days, especially here in the U.S., chemical air fresheners can be found in almost every public restroom. Many of these devices emit a puff of spray on a timer, and if you are unfortunate to be the recipient of such a noxious burst, you are then cursed to spend the rest of the day smelling like a sickening, chemical-induced ersatz petroleum-based flower substitute. And that's saying it nicely.

Contrary to popular opinion, the fragrance and chemical industry is woefully unregulated, and the companies making the products that allegedly "freshen" the air that we breathe are not beholden to disclose the ingredients in their products to consumers. Based on corporate "trade secret" loopholes, these multinational corporations create fragrances and chemicals filled with acetone, formaldehyde, and myriad other toxic materials that are clinically proven to cause rashes, respiratory distress, neurological disturbances, metabolic effects, and a host of other symptoms. Some theorize that the rise in autism, ADD, and other neurological and behavior problems in children and adults may be directly linked to the number of unregulated and toxic chemicals that permeate the very air we breathe. Meanwhile, the government continues to allow these products to gain a greater and greater foothold in our society, with no way for consumers to have a voice in the matter.

The next time you go into a public rest room, look up at the walls, close to the ceiling. You'll notice a white plastic box that usually houses a battery, a fragrance canister, and some type of timer. Take a moment to speak with the manager of said establishment, informing him or her that the chemicals in that "air freshener" are actually fairly toxic, most likely petroleum-based, and generously laced with formaldehyde, acetone, and any number of unregulated chemicals. You can remind this person that a truly clean bathroom needs no "freshening", and cleanliness need not be masked with a chemical haze.

Those of us "canaries" who are living in this 21st century coal mine of toxic chemicals and fragrances walk the streets in fear of what chemical may next cause us symptoms which can run the gamut from irritating to debilitating. Although the American Medical Association is slow to accept MCS as a real disorder, MCS is now a protected disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and people with MCS are becoming increasingly active in pushing for rights and accommodations that will render our lives less limited.

Unregulated chemicals now saturate the air we breathe, and millions of Americans willingly use "Plug-Ins" and other devices that release heated versions of these substances into their homes, subjecting children's developing neurological systems to a chemical onslaught with unknown consequences.

The fragrance industry is thrilled that we now equate cleanliness with a smell, rather than the absence of odor. We have played right into their hands, and their products can now be found throughout the land. So, those of us suffering with chemical injury and environmental illness have paid the price, and millions more will follow. Perhaps your children will one day rue the day that a "Plug-In" released its toxins into their nursery as they slept. These chemicals and chemically-based fragrances are addictive and ubiquitous, but they are wholly dispensable and unnecessary. When will we wake up and see that we ourselves are a science experiment, and billions of dollars are made each year as we stew in this unregulated pot of toxins?
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