A chance off-the-cuff remark by Christie Blatchford in the Globe and Mail this weekend regarding scent-free work environments has kept me up late writing a letter to the editor (see below). After a decade of basically keeping my mouth shut about this, she has sent me over the edge into doing something about this issue. I am going to start pursuing scent-free policies at the U, the college and the school sysytem.
I have often appreciated the willingness of Christie Blatchford to express her personal pain when it comes to the suffering of others. Yet in the case of those who suffer from chemical sensitivities, it seems that, since Christie has had no personal experience of or contact with this common and growing environmental illness, the difficulties of these people deserve her ridicule.
Chemical scents are pervasive, unavoidable and full of the extremely scary, documented poisons that are regularly discussed with deep concern in this very paper (including the Focus section of the issue in which Christie scoffs at scent-free workplaces). They are completely unregulated and marketed to a rapt, ignorant public as necessary for such basic requirements as attractiveness and fresh air. In fact they are one of our biggest sources of indoor air pollution. They exist in deodorants, colognes and perfumes, lotions, hair products, detergents, soaps, laundry products, cleaning products, rooms sprays and plug-ins, etc.
I am one of the canaries in the coalmine. I am severely sensitive to these products. Reactions for me vary from wooziness to extreme flu-like symptoms and central nervous system disorder that can last for days. As an art student at university, I found it ironic to see volumes of safety regulations and intensive safety training around the chemicals in paint and other art materials when every day I was regularly poisoned by my fellow students in Art History class (mornings are the worst when everyone arrives "fresh" from applying their "clean-smelling" products).
Now as a contract instructor at a college, I have no recourse in my workplace but to ask for voluntary cooperation from my students and office mates. Needless to say, many people react like Christie Blatchford with disbelief, scorn and no urge to cooperate. They are not journalists for a national newspaper so I have a little more sympathy for their brainwashed views. Of course, I have no control over the rest of my activities; I have had to leave restaurants, buses, concerts, plays, classrooms, and work to avoid getting very ill. I have had to endure sickness to fly in planes and do my job.
Christie Blatchford is a strong proponent of children's rights. I am the working mother of two little kids. I, and people like me, need to look after our kids. More important to consider is the medically accepted idea that children are far more sensitive to chemicals than adults. Their livers are not as able to filter toxins as ours are. The documented rise of childhood asthma alone is one key measurable that should alert us to the problems of such chemicals in our indoor environment. While I am aware of how these chemicals are affecting me, I wonder if children who are similarly affected are able to express what is going on with them. I'm thinking of the many children who lack energy and focus; some end up being diagnosed with disorders that require them to ingest more chemicals in the form of drugs. We are risking the health of our children for what? The twisted idea of "freshness."
Like tobacco companies, the companies and executives that sell these products--companies with deeply entrenched, "respected" brands--will have a lot to answer for. I'm a little ahead of the curve, Christie, "thanks" to my sensitivities. Personally, I am grateful that there are some workplaces where people are letting go of their accepted notions about scented products. Just because these products are ubiquitous does not mean they are safe.