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MCS Survival Guide | What to do if exposed to chemicals | Points to remember | Example handout

Here we dedicated space to environmental ill health, environmental illnesses, learning, training, protecting yourself and your family from chemicals in your environment.

Toxic and Chemical Poisoning
– about litigation

"You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour".
Lord Atkin - Donoghue v Stevenson 1932.

Chemicals are part of life. But what if your health or property is damaged because of the careless actions of others be they manufacturers or employers or others?

Toxic and chemical poisoning litigation is part of the general law of tort that gives rights to those damaged by the wrongful actions of others. Claims may arise for damages (compensation) for personal injuries or personal nuisance. Nuisance actions involve damage to property whereas personal injury actions concern damage to people. Nuisance actions have arisen due to industrial plant emissions and for example where agricultural "spraydrift" occurs. Such incidents are sometimes unmistakable but others may be difficult to prove.

It is impossible to list all of the chemicals, substances and toxins injurious to human health. Here are some: -

• Asbestos,
• Pesticides incl. organochlorines
lindane and PCP [pentachlorophenol], organophosphates and carbamates
• Solvents incl. Trichloroethylene, MEK, isocyanates and benzene
• Disinfectants - Glutaraldehyde
• Formaldehyde
• Metal(s) incl. lead, chrome, and cadmium)
• Carbon Monoxide
• Dioxin
• Acrylamide poisoning
• Radiation
• Soldering fumes
• Aluminium Sulphate- water contamination
• Biological agents- Sick Building Syndrome
• Pharmaceuticals- vaccine damage

General tort law is effectively encapsulated in the concept of "duty of care" owed by one individual (or company) to another. This duty was set out in the landmark case of Donoghue v Stevenson(1932). The "neighbour principle" which states that you must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour.

For a personal injury claim to succeed a Plaintiff (the person bringing the claim) must prove that the Defendant owed a duty of care and that the duty has been breached resulting in damage.

The extent of the duty of reasonable care of an employer to an employee has been said by the Courts to be that the law in all cases exacts a degree of care commensurate with the risk created. There are numerous specific statutory and regulatory laws concerning chemical processes and hazard prevention. Should such regulations be breached this will invariably result in evidence of primary liability. The most cited regulations in toxic/chemical litigation today are undoubtedly the COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1988).

Legal actions for the acute (significant) effects of chemicals are generally successful whereas the chronic and long term low dose cases are far more difficult to prove.
Undoubtedly the major difficulty for any Plaintiff seeking to recover damages for personal injuries as a result of chemical poisoning is proving causation. That is whether or not the particular chemical caused the injury concerned. It is insufficient that the evidence indicates a possible cause. It must be proven to be the probable cause not one amongst other competing causes. (Wilsher v Essex Health Authority 1988).

There is a critical distinction between medical literature suggesting association and actual proof. The standard of proof required in the civil court to succeed in a claim is in excess of 51%. This is called the "balance of probabilities" and a medical expert must testify that it is "more likely than not" that the injury/disease was so caused.
The Court will require proof of the following: -
Is the chemical/toxin capable of causing injury to humans; what was the extent of the dose and did it cause this individual's injury.

A critical aspect to proving a claim is establishing dose and absorption.
A further concern is "specific" causation, in other words, the individual facts of exposure. An individual's reaction to a particular chemical may depend upon that person's constitution. Susceptibility may well play a part. Chemicals may also cause an idiosyncratic response to which the legal maxim the "Egg shell skull" rule will apply i.e. you must take your victim as you find him or her. So if you are vulnerable, that will not affect your right to claim as long as some injury would have occurred to the non vulnerable.

Chemical products and exposures invariably contain combinations of chemicals. Synergistic reactions occur because of combinations of chemicals which may well cause additive effects far and above that expected of single chemical dose and exposure. No case has yet to be decided directly on this issue but as exposure and injury by chemicals is invariably multi factorial the Courts will address this issue. Multiple chemical sensitivity sufferers and those with "environmental" illnesses are watching the progress of Court actions with increasing interest, particularly developments in the USA.

Nuisance actions for chemical damage to property (rather than human poisoning) have arisen mainly as a result of industrial plant emissions. However, more recently as with human chemical poisoning court actions to "make the polluter pay" have been the objective.

Nuisance claims are often resolved promptly. Other cases have been highly difficult to prove in Court. As an example, a number of cases involving dioxin (an unwanted by-product/ contaminant found in pesticides and industrial emissions) have been tried by the courts.

What to do if exposed to chemicals - Personal care
Remove yourself immediately from the source of exposure
Remove cloths (wash or destroy)
Thorough personal wash – shower is best
Get plenty of fresh air
Drink at least 5 pints of water daily
Take Vitamin C
Drink diluted fruit juice
Have Epsom salt baths to draw out toxins
Have saunas (not to exceed 70 oC)
Gently exercise while in sauna to encourage release of toxins
Shower after sauna

Recording the event
Collect samples (if possible) and store in glass jar
Notify the Environmental Health Department (EHD)
Identify chemical(s) and its properties (COSHH)
Contact the EHD for safety data sheets of chemical
See a GP (to log occurrence onto medical file)
Collect any evidence
Get witness statements if appropriate
Take photographs (of you and site)
Keep diary of events and symptoms


1 Eat mostly organics if you can afford it. Avoid GM foods.
2 Drink mineral water (Spring water does not have the same controls).
3 Avoid all the '-oides', pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, biocides, bactericides, miticides. If it ends in -cide it is designed to kill living organisms. You are a living organism.
4 Toiletries and cleaners - Read all the small print and get to know what it all means. There are now two very good paperback books that can help. Cosmetics Unmasked by Stephen and Gina Antzak (Thersons), and Cleaning Yourself to Death by Pat Thomas (NewLeaf). Both under £10. For cleaning, remember what our ancestors used, before modern chemicals. Try bicarbonate, washing soda, Borax, vinegar, lemon, salt. For room fragrance and in wardrobes try natural lavender, rosemary, cloves, citron peel. Remember that not all environmentally friendly alternatives may be MCS friendly, so you may need to avoid pine, terpenes, tea tree oil, eucalyptus, etc.
5 Find your boundaries and learn to live within them, without apology or embarrassment. Food, lifestyle, bedtimes, where you go, what you have in your home, are for you to decide, with whatever compromises you choose. You are the one who will live with the result. Try to do it with tact, not desperation. Also, make a list of the ten most important things for you do to do each day and then strike off the last five in order to conserve your energy by resting.
6 Tell your friends what you want to avoid in your home. It is your home. If they are friends, they will understand.
7 Ask neighbours to warn you about spraying, painting, etc. so that you can shut yourself indoors safely or go away for a few days.
8 If you feel claustrophobic when behind closed windows and doors, run small fans or air purifiers to keep the air moving. (Beware scented filters with the latter. Ask for them to be changed for plain.)
9 Pharmaceuticals - make sure doctors or hospitals know your problems. You might need a Medicare bracelet.
10 Dentists - take your own mineral water for rinsing, and your own safe toothpaste. (Nelsons Homeopathic is possible - if not try bicarbonate of soda.)
11 Protest vigorously about any unnecessary perfume use. Stamps, scented railway stations. scented soaps in public toilets (Some in machines that will only deliver water after powerfully scented soap.) Air fresheners in taxis. Unsolicited samples in magazines.
12 Fight for the right treatment for YOU. e.g. Homeopathy or other form of alternative therapy.
13 Protest yourself by always getting the Data Sheets for chemical products, and by fighting for right to ALL of them, including the Material Safety Sheets for Chemically Impregnated Manufactured Domestic Goods.
14 Most importantly you know your own body, listen to it - you are the best judge of yourself and your body’s reactions.
15 Before travelling get plenty of rest as likelihood of not being effected in some way by your journey is unlikely. Wear a carbon filter mask to protect yourself, and be wary of any cleaners put into car windscreen washes by the garage.
How to help others help you.
Holding onto social relationships is one of the biggest problems for MCS sufferers. An MCS sufferer will not only have encountered loss of income but also loss of benefits from interacting with others. Sadly, MCS isolates sufferers from most normal activities, yet we all need to socialise.

Points to remember:-
1 Keep needs simple. Whilst you may react to many chemicals, pick the worst ones and keep your explanation simple e.g. for fragrance intolerance the sufferer might say, “I require a fragrance-free room. That means no perfumes, aftershaves, colognes, scented soaps, or wearing clothes that have come into contact with scent.”
2 Acknowledge your limitations. Keep outings short and well within your energy reserves.
3 Keep commitments. Sufferers are able to keep doctors or dentist appointments by conserving energy by getting enough rest. Cancelling appointments will undermine relationships. Remember, don’t diminish the value of another’s time. People will have set aside and in most cases made changes to accommodate being with an MCS sufferer.
4 Explain in a way others can relate to.
To explain the heightened sense of smell, a sufferer may say, “If there is ever a job to ferret out chemicals scents, I’ll have a job!”
When explaining reactions, keep it simple. Something like, “Scented products cause me to have asthma attacks.”
5 Make plans. People with MCS need something to look forward to. We all need to lift our spirits at times and provide us with something else to talk about besides being ill.
6 Make a short list, prioritising the items that most effect your health. List exposure sources, the symptoms these will cause and how long they will last. Keep this list to just one page which can be read to relatives and friends—you’ll be surprised how effective this can be.
7 Try not to preach about chemicals—allow people to understand for themselves, and help them to understand. MCS sufferers need to take responsibility to help not only friend and relatives understand, but also the wider community. Preaching will cause alienation.

An example guide handout
This is to help you understand my illness so we can continue to spend time together. I am made ill by many products and that illness sometimes last for more than 48 hours. Here’s a list of what disables me:-
All scented products such as ....
Before I can come over, it you can put these items away or cover them with plastic, it will help me. If it is too much trouble perhaps we can meet at my house or take my car?

The above should be modified for each individual and their particular requirements.


Symptoms of MCS | Recognition of MCS | Personal Issues | Coming to terms with MCS | Lifestyle tips for immune system

Exposure can happen to anyone - even at home

In ordinary things and places like: food, water and air; offices, shops, schools, homes; cosmetics, cleaning products; clothing, leather goods; paints, varnishes, waxes; bug sprays, mothballs; cooking and heating appliances; sick buildings; new homes; fresh paint, new carpets and furnishings, you can encounter pesticides, solvents, heavy metals, toxic gases and particles which are nervous system poisons, irritants, allergens, sensitizers and create indoor air pollution.

Some people are more sensitive than others for instance the very young, the pregnant, the chronically ill, the allergic and asthmatic, the immune suppressed, the elderly, the poor and the malnourished. Others are at risk because of where they work or because of what they do for a living. It is important to realize that some people have overwhelming but unrecognized exposures at home, at work or school or at play. Chemicals individually or combined can make you so sick that you are no longer able to function or live normally.
Currently MCS is not yet officially recognised in the UK .
Symptoms of MCS
The problem with MCS is that people do react differently to the same exposure hence the difficulty in diagnosis. However there are familiar symptoms ranging from mild to disabling. e.g. fatigue (often chronic), confusion, rashes, joint pain, bronchitis, watery eyes, nausea, memory loss, headache, hypertension, asthma, muscle spasms, sleep disturbances, stuffy nose swollen limbs and sore throat to mention just a few.

In someone whose immune system has been compromised and damaged even the slightest of exposures can trigger any of the above symptoms. It is imperative to identify and avoid exposures in order to control the symptoms of MCS. However in this world that can be hard if you want a near ‘normal’ life so we also advise what steps you should take if you have had an exposure.
Achieving recognition of MCS
A study showed one billion people suffer from MCS (WHO,1999) and also found 7 out of 10 sufferers are women & children. Another interesting fact which emerges is that ten years ago there were 1 in 850,000 who suffered from autism type syndromes – today the figure is 8 in 150. At the present time there is no treatment protocol for these people therefore resulting in either the sufferers being prescribed tranquilisers such as Prozac or Ritalin or the worst detained under the 1983 Mental Health Act.

According to the Royal College of Physicians report (25 June 2003) one in three of the population (equivalent to 18 million people) will be affected by an allergy during his or her lifetime and the report warns of an alarming increase in serious allergies that can provoke life-threatening reactions.

On the 1 June 2003 the European Commission launched a strategy to reduce diseases linked to environmental factors.

The time has come to make the voice of MCS sufferers heard in the media, in government and professional bodies. It is time MCS is recognised.

Personal Issues top

First of all allow yourself the credit for coping with MCS so far because by doing so it will make it easier to move forward.

Psychological baggage – although MCS is not psychological any baggage you may already be carrying will effect your energy levels with which to cope with the MCS. Resolve any issues to reduce any limitations they place on you thereby allowing you to cope more constructively with your MCS.

Assertiveness – you are going to have to negotiate your social life therefore be aware and be prepared to be assertive. Being assertive (if you’re not normally) may mean facing a big fear of rejection. You can expect to be knocked back by some people but don't give up - reasonable people will respect you for standing up for yourself.

Self-esteem and self-worth - these issues may arise if you have experienced negative reactions from people regarding your MCS. You need to ‘stay tough’, see things for what they are and then keep going forward.

Overachievement – many people relate their achievement to their productivity at work. MCS interferes with this productivity thereby lowering a person’s self worth. Consider adjusting your career to one more fitted to the effects of MCS, remember everyone has something to offer.

Procrastination – If you normally have trouble getting things done consider compiling ‘to do lists’ and keep to them. Don’t use MCS as an excuse for not doing things. Even reward yourself for any accomplishment(s).

Personality, Style – Whether you are an extrovert or introvert will influence how you emotionally deal with MCS. Search for things to do and keep yourself from being isolated; keep that connection to the outside world.

There are two groups of reactions.
People with MCS react directly to the source of exposure in a physical way and react secondly with the long term reality of living with MCS.

Keeping a log of direct reactions and activities will enable you to identify environmental trigger factors. Often people feel out of control with direct reactions to exposures; it is so important to be aware and take special care of your behaviour if you have been exposed e.g. when driving, interacting with others, verbalising and importantly when making decisions.

Secondary reactions and effects may include any of the following; loss, isolation, fear, anger and frustration, obsessive/compulsive disorders, self blame, lack of choice regarding emotional reactions, lack of privacy regarding health, loss of choice regarding lifestyle, negative attitudes towards authorities and conventional medicine and the loss of a stable continuous identity.

Negative responses experienced by sufferers include:-
‘This is not really me’
Feeling ‘tired, empty and strange’
Life has been ‘hijacked’
Difficultly in talking to others
Loss of self esteem
Feel like a burden
Hate being dependent on others i.e. loss of independence
Feeling angry and irritable
Expression of unfairness at losing control over behaviour when exposed
Loss of personality, energy, ambition
Some pretend to be ‘normal’ and will expose themselves to toxic environment to keep ‘normality’
Keep secret the effect of direct reaction if possible to keep ‘normality’
Confusion in re-planning your life, redefining your goals
‘Robbed’ of identity
‘dislodged’ from familiar roles as relationships change or disappear
feel worthless
want old life back
wish it had never happened
masks take away one's identity
sadness, envy, resentment, longing, depression seeing ‘normal’ people
life unreal, almost surreal
displacement from the home, from belongings, and from your own mind.
Life has no meaning
No-one cares
Dreams shattered
Positive responses experienced by sufferers include:-
read more
listen to tapes
developed spirituality
Increased knowledge by researching everything in order to keep yourself safe.
Exploration of oneself and experience personal growth
Gaining perspective of activities and value aspects of your life
Connecting to new relationships e.g. self help groups, activist groups, family.
Integration through support, patience, time (and for some spirituality).
Construction of self and life which encompasses MCS
Learn to live in today
More self aware, ability to listen to the body and use own intuition
Accept that you are a worthwhile person even with MCS

Realise that doctors don’t have all the answers. Realise that you are not the problem – it’s the synthetic chemicals in the environment which are. It is possible to survive this life-rearranging condition, as a challenge MCS is hard to beat!

Coming to terms with living with MCS - a chronic disease top

Stop trying to find a cure
Accept the illness and do your best to find as many ways as possible to keep yourself comfortable, busy, stress-free, and well nourished with good food.
Find ways to relax and socialise
Don’t feel sorry for yourself everyone has health problems; this is yours.
Make the best of things because you can’t change it; those who pressure themselves to find a cure often end up making it worse.
Educate those who want to learn and stop tying to convince those that don’t.

Adapting to chronic illness can create problems within intimate relationships, creates dependency issues, difficulty is experienced in ‘achieving’ through disability and associated obstacles and a deeper problem of the disfigurement which may occur and even anxiety concerns to do with death.

Goodheart and Lansing (1) describe six stages:
1 Initial response - recognition that something is wrong and it is not going away.

2 Awareness of Chronicity –Anxiety, doubt and fear and denial – a period of ambiguity which can create a grief reaction.

3 Disorganisation – disturbances at work, in education, in family roles and in the quality of life results in frustration and anger which leads onto social isolation. The sufferer experiences a sense of loss of self and identity as well as loss of contact from people around them

4 Intensified wish for a cure – the desire to return to ‘normal’ makes the sufferer search for help through conventional and alternative avenues. The element of self blame may enter which might make a sufferer think they are in some way to blame for what has happened to them e.g. by not trying hard enough in some avenue of their life; while opposite to this some sufferers may blame over doing things as the root problem. In both cases the belief that one can control their illness creates a sense of hope.

5 Acknowledgement of Helplessness –On recognition that the problem cannot be undone the sufferer enters a stage of grief, loss and mourning. At the same time adaptation can now begin by forming coping strategies and mechanisms; everybody has to cope in their own way.

6 Adaptation to Illness – Strength comes from acceptance, time spent meanfully and taking personal responsibility for your life. Acceptance also allows a choice to be made as to what level you want to approach your chronic illness. Remember there are paths to chose and not everyone will chose the same path but by accepting the condition the sufferer is then opened to healing.

1 Goodheart, C.D., and M.H. Lansing. 1997. Treating People with Chronic Disease: A Psychological Guide. Washington, DC American Psychological Association.

Lifestyle tips for better immune function top

What else can you do to strengthen your immune function? The following guidelines offer a general blueprint for better immunity and overall health:

  • Improve your stress-management skills.
    Develop a more positive attitude.
    Reduce or eliminate your caffeine and alcohol intake.
    If you smoke, stop.
    Reduce your consumption of refined sugar.
    Get at least seven hours of sleep a night.
    Exercise at least three times a week, if you can for 20 minutes.
    Eat a low-fat, high-fibre, nutrient-rich diet, with an emphasis on whole, unprocessed foods.
    Fortify your diet with high-quality supplements.

Support of a Healthy Immune System

  • Regular exercise
    Healthy diet, emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables
    Stress management
    Avoid environmental toxins and exposures to them.
    Vitamins and Minerals - particularly vitamins A, C, and E, zinc
    Antioxidants - especially vitamin E, OPC’s (grape seed extract)
    Essential Fatty Acids - omega-3 (DHA, EPA)
    Herbs and Phytonutrients - echinacea, astragalus, ginseng, mushroom extracts (maitake, shiitake, reishi), andrographis

What to try to avoid

  • Health:
    Restricted breathing patterns
    Low level of water/fluid intake
    Poor appetite/eating patterns/nutrition
    Inadequate or disrupted sleep
    Excess of toxins/drugs/cigarette smoking
    Lack of physical exercise
  • Be aware of:
    Excessive internal speediness/disrupted autonomic balance
    Sustained internal survival stress (SISS) "fight-or-flight"
    Lack of access to (comfort from) trusted support person, confidant
    No previous crisis experience; no developed coping strategies
    Lack of self-assertiveness/inability to say no
    Lack of life goals/purpose/focus (with death preoccupation)
    Lack of secure home/nest/safe place
    Presence of sustained (unmanaged), (multiple-loss) grief
    Inability to self-nurture or convalesce during illness
    Insufficient funds to cover necessities (food, shelter, insurance)
  • Medical:
    Passive, uninformed relationship to health & medical care
    Repeated exposure to environmental toxins or those things that trigger MCS symptoms.
    Excessive (over) use of antibiotics and/or steroids
  • Ten Rules for Reducing Stress
    Do not be perfect or try to be.
    Do not try to be all things to all people.
    Do leave things undone that ought to be done.
    Do not spread yourself too thin.
    Do learn to say “NO”.
    Do schedule time for yourself,
    Do switch off and do nothing regularly.
    Do be boring, untidy, inelegant and unattractive at times.
    Do not feel guilty.
    Do not be your own worst enemy, but instead your own best friend.

    Always keep a light at the end of the tunnel. Everybody gets better in different ways. Tackle your illness from every angle you can. Always have a plan. Above all keep talking with other sufferers - they will give you ideas and inspiration. Visit www.mcsinternational.org


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