Reprinted selection from “It’s Time for Help in Quebec,” Fall 2004 Eco-Sense (a revision of an AEHA-Quebec article by Rohini Peris).
Environmental sensitivities can occur when people become sensitive to substances or phenomena in their everyday environment at levels well below what would be considered to be acceptable to “normal” people. Sensitivity reactions can be triggered by [the toxic chemicals in] scented products, cleaning products, laundry detergents, paints, petrochemicals, cigarette smoke, pesticides, pets, plants, fuels, [and from] electromagnetic radiation, molds, and foods.
The effect of environmental sensitivities can be overwhelming. Productive people may suddenly or gradually become unable to tolerate offices, homes, schools, hospitals and public places. Employers, who may or may not be aware of the problem, may refuse to make the accommodation necessary to allow people affected to continue working in safety. Many people with sensitivities lose their jobs if they are not provided with the accommodations they need to work productively. Some become homeless. All too often, retirement savings are depleted and debts are incurred in an attempt to create safe living conditions and to fund the cost of treatment. Treatment of these problems can be expensive and difficult to obtain, and includes avoidance of offending agents. Some people with sensitivities do improve after many years if they are able to find a safe environment in which to live and work, and if they can obtain (and afford) treatments that are both tolerable and effective for them. Sadly, despite skills and education, some people with sensitivities end up on social assistance. Many become socially isolated as they are forced to retreat from places and activities they love, and for some, the devastation extends to losing spouses, family and friends who may not believe that they are ill.
This disability may be invisible, but it is real. Like others with disabilities, persons with sensitivities have special needs which include, but are not limited to: housing in a safe and tolerable environment so that their bodies can heal, well-tolerated, environmentally safe products available at a reasonable cost, consumer self-help groups, a support system, tolerable meeting places, publicly funded treatments, safe hospitals, schools and other public facilities, and accommodation in the workplace. Like all Canadians, we are entitled to freedom from discriminatory treatment, which includes the right to accessible workplaces, accommodation and public facilities. Notably, environmental sensitivities have been recognized as disabilities by the Canadian Human Rights Commission and many provincial human rights commissions.
Environmental Sensitivities – a Definition