Competing Human Rights and MCS/ES

As more people become chemically “sensitive”, different types of human rights scenarios  emerge. In their latest elearning module, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has included a case study with someone who “has been diagnosed with a chemical sensitivity disability”.

Some people think that our need for clean air interferes or competes with their imagined right to use toxic products, especially those with fragrances, but no, there is no inherent right to wear perfume or use other fragranced products!

Sometimes, though,  someone may need to use a product for a disabling condition of their own. The problems arise if that product has fragrances (or some other problematic ingredients) added which cause disabling effects on another person, as the following case study from the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) shows.

OHRC Competing Human Rights 1B

Competing rights at the office

Example 1 – Code right v. Code right: Competing rights at the office 

This example involves two Code rights, both on the ground of disability.

Mira works in an office with 25 other employees. She has been diagnosed with a chemical sensitivity disability. Perfumes and scented hand creams give her migraines, nausea and make her feel dizzy. Her manager is aware of her disability and has tried to make sure that the other employees don’t wear perfumes or scented products to the office.

Recently Ramon, another employee at the office, was diagnosed with a severe skin condition. He has to use a medicated skin cream several times a day to treat his condition. The skin cream is scented, and causes Mira to react.

Mira told Ramon and their manager that Ramon’s cream is giving her migraines, nausea and dizziness when she comes to work.

Ramon told the manager that he understands Mira’s situation, but if he doesn’t use the cream, his condition will get worse and it will be hard for him to work.

This is a competing rights situation, because both Mira and Ramon have a Code right to have their disability accommodated.

We’ll talk more about how to resolve competing rights situations in Module 5 of this course, but not all competing rights situations are complicated. In fact, many can be resolved by talking.

In this case, for example, a conversation with their manager might find that moving Mira or Ramon to cubicles on opposite sides of the office might solve the problem. Ramon could also see if there’s an alternative or unscented cream, or one of them could work remotely until Ramon’s condition has resolved.

Here are some discussion questions to think about:

In this case, do you think one right is more important than another? Why?
What do you think is the best way to resolve this competing rights situation?
Who will be affected by your solution?

There are more examples in their “Competing Human Rights under the Ontario Human Rights Code” module here.

And, if you want to learn even more about human rights and the law, the OHRC has shared more elearning modules here.

I personally think it’s time for people with MCS/ES to have a right to breathe clean air (which benefits everyone), and to “be allowed to stay”,  instead of always being the ones who have to leave in order to avoid feeling like we’ve been run over by a truck,  suffer cumulative damages from exposures, and require more and more time to recover our abilities.

Having to work (learn, socialize, shop, live) remotely and electronically, being forced into isolation just so the rest of the world can use toxic products, has been going on for far too long. It is not a humane way to live, especially considering that when we are “accommodated”, everyone benefits from being in a healthier environment.

If people with chemical “sensitivities” can find safe, harmless ways to treat skin problems and other treatable health issues, then so can the general public.

It’s time to prioritize health and well-being over questionable products, and make the world a healthy and accessible place for one and all!

19 responses to “Competing Human Rights and MCS/ES

  1. I wish I had a manager like that. Mine told me if I was that sick I should quit. I wonder if anyone contacted the company making the skin product to notify them that their “healing” product was doing harm?

    • Too many managers don’t want to give up the products they use so won’t enforce a policy for someone else.

      With us, it’s almost always products over people…

      I don’t know if this example was from an actual situation they were contacted about, and if it was, what happened. Some of the other examples are much more detailed regarding the “negotiation” process.

      I have heard of managers who are great about enforcing fragrance and chemical free environments.

      I recently had someone tell me that an email was sent to all employees reminding them of the scent free policy, and that if they showed up with a detectable fume that affected the “sensitive”, they had a choice: they could be sent home without pay to shower and change, or they could be hosed off in the parking lot.

      That manager had sent people home without pay when they violated the policy. If only all managers were like that!

      • Wow. We should all send that person a great job email. For most of us we face losing our jobs and/or facing long drawn out legal battles when we barely have the strength to make a cup of tea.

    • I’ve heard a lot of people complain in online groups about medications (etc) being fragranced, but I don’t know how many contact the manufacturers. I do know that quite often when we do contact them, we are told “no one else has complained”, even when we know others have. There is no legal requirement for them to track or reveal complaints OR adverse effects!

      • Instead of contacting companies contact Health Canada and report adverse effects to them. Health Canada approves Meds for sale in Canada and they have more clout to make a company change their formulas than individual people have.

      • I know here in the US doctors can report adverse reactions to the drug companies. I had an adverse reaction to a drug and my doctor said he had never heard of that happening and he said he would report it. I don’t know if they are required to report however. I would think it should be mandatory.

        • There was a move here to make it mandatory here but I don’t think it has had much success. The pharmaceutical industry is far too influential regarding policies that would go against their profits in any way. It’s beyond me how they think it’s ok to profit from hurting people, but they do… There’s a ton of evidence out there regarding serious life-long disability or deaths from pharmaceuticals that were used or taken as directed, yet the industry is allowed to get away with it while they create diversions attacking homeopathy…

  2. How interesting! It’s great that the Ontario Human Rights Commission has brought up Chemical Sensitivity and our right to live and work in the real world. The nitty gritty and conflicts of interests and rights is where it all gets fun!
    But it really does surprise me how often medicines contain unnecessary ingredients that many people find harmful. I take Diazepam for anxiety, which contains lactose. There is no alternative tablet that does not contain lactose (it is a filler, not an active ingredient), which is troubling as lactose intolerance is very common. I could take a lacteze – but my tummy discomfort is minimal (yet ongoing) and I’d rather not add even more unnecessary chemicals to my body.
    I think you are right – if every time any one of us comes across a product or medication that contains unnecessary fragrance or irritant, we should write a letter and inform the manufacturers. Slowly we will create awareness of our needs, and of how unnecessary fragrances and fillers really are.

  3. And it was that easy – I just e-mailed APOTEX about not having any diazepam available without dairy. My e-mail will do absolutely nothing, but hopefully over the years the tiny drops of water will erode the mountain of ignorance. Let’s create an avalanche of letters and e-mails and contribute (in a small way) to real change (over a period of years).
    Hurrah for people power!!!

    • Oh, the allergens in drugs issue is HUGE!
      So many adverse reactions that are not being tracked, so many people being given drugs with ingredients they are allergic to, so little to do about it! I know someone who has been trying to get testing done to find meds that she can take, and no medical professional is helping her!

    • Thanks Claire!

      If everyone makes a call or sends an email, and if we find a way to demand tracking, then change will happen.

      I do have links to adverse reaction reporting in the US and Canada in the sidebar somewhere, which can be used in some instances too.

    • Not that it solved the bigger problem, but you might be able to get a compounding pharmacy to make it dairy free for you.

  4. People with disabilities need to stake action and file Human Rights complaints. It’s not hard to do and staff there will help you. The more legal decisions in our favour the easier it will be to gain appropriate inclusive accommodation in public spaces and workplaces. Filing a Human Rights complaint is a tool that could be most useful if only people would use it instead of griping over the kitchen table about how bad things are.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if we with MCS couldn’t file a class action suit against corps like Shoppers Drug Mart or manufacturers of garbage bags impregnated with fragrance etc.
    Another thought is to pressure the Ontario Government to train more doctors specializing in environment medicine. Dr John Molot has started the ball rolling on that but he needs our help by contacting our MPPs to ask for more environmental medicine specialists.

    • Do you have the energy for this? Then please do some organizing!
      I have seen that by the time people realize these kinds of steps are necessary, it’s often too late, survival becomes all consuming.

      When I really needed to file a Human Rights case, I wasn’t able to use the phone for more than 5 minutes a week, had no access to a computer, was at a summer cabin, in a tent, with no washroom or shower (just a hose with lake water, and that got shut off as the weather got cold), was sent a stack of documents an inch thick on paper and ink I still don’t tolerate, and 6 years later I still have no help to do things like this.

      In fact, I even lost access to OHIP because the Ontario Government doesn’t accommodate people with severe MCS/ES. Even my MPPs office has not managed to get my OHIP reinstated in over 6 months. Not that I had access to any medical care covered by OHIP, which was one of the reasons I lost it – you need a doctor to sign the exemption form when you can’t go in for a photo… but that would require being able to go see a doctor… and there aren’t any minimally fragrance-free doctors who do house calls in this area.

  5. I am still in process of ADA commadation with the city of St.Paul MN, 2 yrs. They said no 2times and now i have tomsend a letter to a city clerk. Then i dobt know what happens more with the city, i am preparing to sue. I can not call 911 for help if i am sick because they refuse to go fragfree. One of the frequent resons is because the public will be incontact we cant do it. Oh and too many people in their employ. Which i come back with if the CDC with thousands of pl can do it thats not an excuse. Its bounding my head on a brick wall but it fells good to be doing some thing. And maine stream media is picking up on the FDA not regulating ingredints now.


  6. Now, in order to acess Ontario Drug benefit coverage, you need to update your OHIP card to one with a photo (biometrics) and electronic tracking — I was told there is no exception. The photo place is downstairs in a smelly mall, with lineups a block long. I hung around the counter area, till the clerk was finished serving his client, and asked his advice as to what to do, given that I had severe MCS and ME/CFS, and couldn’t stand long enough to wait in line, and likely couldn’t stay conscious long enough to wait sitting if that were something available. I asked what kind of disability accommodation was available. He got on his keyboard, and told me to report to wicket #X, where they were waiting for me. Just like that.

    They made me tilt my head at an odd angle, which nearly made me pass out, and made for a photo making my face look even more lopsided and haggard than necessary. But at least I *have* an working OHIP card, whether or not I can actually tolerate the conditions needed to use it anywhere.

    The Ontario Ministry of Health has established a task force on environmental health, to make recommendations for our “care” and for research … feel free to flood them with messages at Of course, you can expect only a “we know all about it” kind of response, but they probably count e-mails, and nothing ventured, nothing gained.

    I’m a bit skeptical about the “model” being advanced by the NGO involved, as it’d require people to get to “hubs” … you can’t drive in traffic fumes, and public transport is loaded with scented riders. Not to mention that cab companies (for those who can afford cabs) don’t know the difference between scent and nonsense.

    • Glad you got some accommodation there! Back when I was still able to go out occasionally, I called in advance and got some accommodation, but even then it took me at least a week to recover from going. Now I can’t goat all so they don’t seem interested in me, out of sight, out of mind… We need access to basic services from home if they won’t detox the world…

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