The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has taken a bold step when it comes to indoor air quality. Just recently, a new breakthrough policy was initiated that will be enforced at every CDC office throughout the United States, and I predict that this policy will be cited and referenced by others for years to come. Like a Supreme Court decision that informs future legal arguments---sometimes for generations---the CDC's courageous and long-overdue stance on indoor air quality may be a watershed moment for those with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and Environmental Illness (EI). To read an excellent review of the policy and to access the CDC's pdf documents regarding the policy, please see this post on The Canary Report.
The CDC's comprehensive policy bans all fragranced cleaning products and chemicals, and states clearly that all employees must refrain from the use of fragranced laundry detergents, dryer sheets, fabric softeners, hair spray, deodorant, and all manner of personal care products. Additionally, any paints used in CDC buildings must be without odor and have the lowest possible levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Thus, all cleaning and pest control products now used by those who maintain and clean CDC buildings will be green, non-toxic and fragrance-free, and this far-reaching ban includes potpourri, air fresheners, plug-ins, and toilet and urinal deodorizers.
Beyond the new regulations, a grievance procedure has been implemented for employees who experience any symptoms potentially related to chemicals or products in the work environment, including those used by fellow employees. When a complaint is initiated, a CDC Safety Officer will be assigned to the case and begin an immediate investigation under the auspices of the CDC Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) Program.
Although the American Medical Association (AMA) still refuses to recognize Multiple Chemical Sensitivity as a true physiological syndrome or illness (they maintain that it is a psychiatric disorder), MCS has indeed been recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for years. The fact that the CDC is completely ignoring the AMA's resistance to the reality of MCS and EI speaks volumes to how the AMA's stance on this issue holds less and less water over time.
Indoor air quality and the ability to work safely at one's place of employment is a crucial aspect of occupational health, however very few workplaces take indoor air quality or chemical sensitivity seriously. Thus, many individuals with chemical sensitivity find themselves unemployed, professionally and socially isolated, and in financial distress due to the inability to find healthy and understanding workplaces.
The fact that the CDC---one of the most trusted and respected medical/scientific organizations on the planet---has instituted a mandatory fragrance-free indoor air quality policy for all of its buildings confirms the fact that the concerns of those of us living with MCS and EI are valid and worthy of recognition and respect. So many individuals living with MCS struggle in the workplace, remain unemployed, or lose jobs when we pursue reasonable accommodations for our medical condition, and the CDC has now provided an empowering example of how the recognition of chemical sensitivity can bring about real change.
I am honestly astounded that the CDC has taken such a step by championing indoor air quality and the health and well-being of its employees, including those with chemical sensitivity. What many people do not understand is that constant exposure to myriad common cleaning products and VOCs can actually cause the development of chemical sensitivity in otherwise healthy individuals. The CDC is now proactively creating a healthier work environment for all of its employees and simultaneously setting an example that other employers and workplaces may eventually follow.
For those of us with MCS or EI, the workplace is often where we feel most disempowered vis-a-vis our illness, and the CDC's new policies may now embolden many of us to pursue such policies in our own places of employment. The struggle for reasonable accommodations at work can be quite challenging, but thanks to the CDC, a new precedent has been created and there is now no turning back the clock. As a person living with MCS, I am indeed grateful to the CDC for their newly initiated policy, and I can only hope that its successful implementation will have a far-reaching impact for decades to come.