What’s it Like to Have MCS/ES? Part 2: Curbs

MCS/ES (multiple chemical sensitivities / environmental sensitivities)  is a disability recognized by the Canadian and Ontario Human Rights Codes. There are over a million people with doctor diagnosed MCS in Canada, and so many more all around the world.

In the US, the latest prevalence study found that “among the population, 12.8% report medically diagnosed MCS and 25.9% report chemical sensitivity.”

The term ‘sensitivities’ seems to trivialize the condition in many people’s minds.

You may wonder what’s it really like then, if it’s not trivial?



From Amy RW Marsh:

I just wrote this analogy for a person who needed one in order to understand EI/MCS:


Understand that airborne toxins are a barrier to access (and good health) as PHYSICAL as a curb is to a person who uses a wheelchair.

Now imagine that you are in a wheelchair trying to go places and do ordinary things, and there are nothing but curbs in the way.

And people tell you that you are crazy to be in that chair and don’t understand why you don’t just get up and walk like everyone else.

Then imagine that all those curbs not only make it hard for you to go places, but that they also make it hard to breathe, think, or have energy.

Imagine those curbs cause liver and kidney damage, asthma, brain fog, and more.

And yet everyone still persists in building curbs, buying even more curbs, and putting them in all kinds of places–even bathrooms and doctor’s offices, schools, grocery stores, buses, planes, workplaces, classrooms, housing, etc.

Imagine that none of your experience or training helps to get you a job, because you need a workplace without curbs.

Imagine that if you call a suicide hotline and have only ten minutes to speak with a counselor, you have to spent that time educating them about your problem with curbs and why it makes you so sad.

And then your time is up.

And then imagine that no one wants to remove any of the curbs so that you can spend time with them.

Imagine that your loved ones resent that you have a problem with curbs.

Imagine that you can’t visit people you love because their homes are full of curbs.

Imagine that you can’t get any government help to make places that don’t have curbs.

Imagine that every time you mention how the curb is in your way, someone tries to deny your lived experience.

And so on…


Image collages compiled by seriously “sensitive” to pollution.

Note that fragranced products are just the top layer of air pollution that most people with MCS, ES, EI, etc have disabling adverse effects from, and they should really be the easiest to remove since they are products of convenience, not need. People survived for centuries without adding fragrances to everything.
Once this top layer is gone, it will be easier to address some of the other layers of indoor air pollution.

Household products make surprisingly large contributions
to air pollution

“In urban areas, emissions from consumer goods such as paint, cleaning supplies and personal care products now contribute as much to ozone and fine particulate matter in the atmosphere as do emissions from burning gasoline or diesel fuel.”

Everyday products like these emit a bouquet of volatile organic compounds that contribute to air pollution.

Air fresheners
Cleaning sprays
Laundry detergent
Disinfectant wipes
Hand sanitizer

“Beyond their immediate effects, VOCs react with other molecules in the air, such as oxygen and nitrogen oxides, to generate ozone as well as fine particulate matter. (Those nitrogen oxides come, in large part, from vehicle exhaust.) High levels of fine particulate matter make it hard to breathe and contribute to chronic lung problems (SN: 9/30/17, p. 18). And while ozone high in the atmosphere helps shield Earth from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, at ground level, it mixes with fine particulates to form breath-choking smog.”


Be Fragrance-free. It’s good for you. It’s good for me.

9 responses to “What’s it Like to Have MCS/ES? Part 2: Curbs

  1. This is a WOW article. I love using analogies and this is perfect!
    Most people try to understand people in chairs. They get some of it but it helps to have had personal experience as I have with my late husband.
    I so wish he could read this to understand even better MCS. He did understand but found it so hard to explain to others. Even understanding spouses are thought to be simply indulging us!
    Your articles are so informative and heartwarming. Thank-you!

  2. Great collages, we should make them–a kind of antiadvertising! Perhaps even an ecovertising (or envirovertising?)–a turning to our surroundings as community and household that we need to keep healthy as much as our own bodies!
    Thank you for this and for all the research and work you do. I learn so much and find so much to consider on your site. (And I have MCS and need to learn and understand more myself about my own and others’ reactions.)

  3. DARN!!! I forgot to add pesticides to the images! They are huge curbs and disabling accessibility barriers.

  4. Rhonda Smithson

    Excellent as usual

  5. I too greatly appreciate your efforts on this site. And, your illustrative articles seem very family/friend-friendly. Love the (dark) humor. I will utilize them to try to educate. (Fingers crossed.) I had given up trying. Again. But, you give me hope :) Thanks much.

    A few other “curbs” you could add: (in addition to the pesticides, for sure)
    More airborne pollutants:
    exhaust (from all vehicles, lawnmowers, snow blowers, etc.)
    pollution from all “motorized” yard work: lawn/chemical dust, etc.
    all smoke
    all off-gassing plastics inside/outside
    all paints
    all sprayed chemicals of any kind…..
    And, then there are all those painful sounds: (caused by inflamed ear canals)
    motors, engines of all kinds just driving by (even if you’re inside somewhere or your own car)
    low bass stereos
    most music :( (basically all notes above middle C) all brass instruments, drum sets
    most people talking above low levels, “high” laughing, yelling
    horns, alarms, etc.
    silverware on plates, glasses on counters, etc. etc.
    And, lights:
    car headlights, streetlights
    pretty much all lights in public places
    digital signs, screens, TVs
    just about all light above dim

    Oh, and then there’s all the EHS stuff…..!
    all wi-fi towers, routers, etc.
    credit card readers, etc. in stores, etc.
    all electrical appliances

    I guess too many to list.

  6. Pingback: So You Think We’re Being Difficult When We ask You to Change Products? | Seriously "Sensitive" to Pollution

  7. Deborah Debono

    Goid article
    How do we do an online partion to srop chemust selling perfunes. As u can not go into chemist because of the smells

    • Thanks Deborah!

      Are you dealing with a chain of stores?
      If so, I would address a petition to head office.

      Perhaps start first by writing them a letter describing the problem and asking them to change.
      If they won’t change (fragrances can be big money for them just like cigarettes once were), then a petition could help.

      In the US, the Mind the Store campaign has targeted chains to clean up their act regarding various harmful practices. It has helped, but there’s still a ways to go.

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