It’s the beginning of December and time to get ready for the holiday season – shopping, giving and receiving presents, social gatherings and parties, and family get-togethers. But what does this time of year mean to the 12,000 canaries with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) in my environmental medicine practice? To them, this season also means that there are more barriers to overcome in order to participate in life’s events, because this is also a time for increased chemical exposures. Their symptoms are provoked by chemicals common in our environment, at levels that the rest of us seem to tolerate. But people with MCS are the proverbial canaries, warning the rest of us about the significance of these common chemical exposures, which are contributing to the rising incidence of chronic disease.
Let’s start with shopping. Why are we all forced to pass by row after row of counters selling scented products in order to shop in large department stores? Even certain Canadian pharmacies, supposedly there to meet our health needs, place their scented products at the only entrance, forcing us to inhale the numerous volatile compounds, just to get inside. And why is it OK for some retail chains to aerate their ventilation systems with their brand of chemical scents, which contaminate their store and the surrounding indoor air in malls, just to entice people to buy more of their products?
Let unscented candles shine
Speaking of scents, approximately 35% of candle sales occur during the holiday season, with claims of more than 10,000 different candle scents available to consumers. But don’t place all the blame on merchants trying to entice you to buy their products. Consumer choices drive the market. Women’s Day Magazine, with 22 million readers, published an article last September entitled New Study Finds Scented Candles and Air Fresheners Pose Dangerous Health Risks, in which they review the toxic effects generated by the numerous chemicals from scents that can contaminate our indoor environment. They end the article with the following: ” Are these findings enough for you to blow that candle out? Or is it too difficult to part ways with their addictive aromas? Honestly, we’re on the fence.” Why is there a fence? Why do these women think that personal pleasure trumps providing a safe and healthy home environment for their families? Consumers driving the market, or advertisers driving the consumer?
Keep this in mind
With this in mind, think about the presents you buy or receive from others, which can off-gas chemicals and contaminate the indoor air, even if not considered a scented product. New clothing, will off-gas chemicals like formaldehyde, flame retardants and stain repellants. They should be washed before being worn. Air out any scarves and hats you receive, or cozy throws before hunkering down. You can try putting them in the dryer with no heat to blow the chemicals out of the house.
Artificial Christmas trees are usually made from polyvinyl chloride plastics (PVC). Lead is used as a stabilizer. It can contaminate housedust and be a risk for toddlers. PVC also exists in children’s toys, especially yellow ones, like rubber ducks. Presents for your pets can be another source of contamination.
Healthy Holidays for all!
There is no doubt that consumer products can contaminate your indoor environment. More will be entering your home this month. Your house should have an air exchanger to improve the ventilation, but most don’t. If you want to create the olfactory sensation of a warm, happy, traditional environment in your home during this holiday season, try to make your house smell like everyone’s favorite holiday meal, whether it is turkey or potato latkes. You can even use real food to do it!
Have a great, but healthy, holiday season.