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Issues 2 & 3
2002

 

 

 

MCS activism starting to pay off

By Sharon Wachsler

What is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity?


What's happening around the states


To take action...


Many years of hard work by multiple chemical sensitivity activists are starting to pay off as the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board begins addressing the access needs of people with chemical and electrical sensitivities.

U. S. Access Board meetings now fragrance free

In early 2001, the Board issued a statement saying it had adopted a "policy to promote fragrance-free environments," making Access Board events more accessible to people with chemical sensitivity. The announcement was one of several incremental moves toward addressing multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) in Access Board policies and regulations.

"There are many people who experience unpleasant physical effects from scented products, such as perfumes and cologne," the statement begins. It continues by defining MCS and calling for more research into the disease's etiology. "While many questions are yet to be answered, the Board believes in doing what it can where it can. As a result, the Board has adopted a policy for its meetings and public gatherings that will help reduce exposure to personal fragrances. Under this policy, the Board requests that all participants refrain from wearing perfume, cologne and other fragrances, and use unscented personal care products. . . ." This request is now included in notices and on displayed signage for the Board's meetings, hearings, and other public events, and the Board says it will work with meeting site operators "to prevent the use of deodorizers and cleaning products immediately before the event in and around meeting locations. . . .

"The Board believes that this policy will provide a more comfortable environment and, in the larger scheme of things, help promote greater awareness of multiple chemical sensitivities."

Successes like the Access Board statement are the result of hard struggle by MCS activists who have worked since the mid 1980s for "reasonable and enforceable regulations" for "safer access to publicly funded facilities and housing" for people with MCS, says Susan Molloy of the National Coalition for the Chemically Injured. "We are still not greeted warmly, but as our ranks swell, the vehement, overt discrimination against us is less universally condoned and we have earned a few allies."

A "working group" convened by the Access Board is making efforts to identify MCS and electrical sensitivity access barriers. The group has met by conference call several times; members include Access Board members June Isaacson-Kailes, Marilyn Golden, Ken Schoonover and General Counsel James Raggio, and public members Mary Lamielle, Ann McCampbell, MD, Larry Plumlee, Toni Temple, Barbara Wilkie and Molloy.

MCS activists dominate discussion of proposed ADA updates

These moves by the Access Board toward recognizing MCS access needs are due to the overwhelming pressure MCS activists levied during the most recent ADA Accessibility Guidelines update process.

In the spring of 2000, the Access Board heard testimony on its proposed updates to the Guidelines. The Guidelines, also known as ADAAG, cover the construction and alterations of facilities required to be accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Architectural Barriers Act. The proposed update, published in November 1999, altered both the substance and format of existing Guidelines and provided new figures and advisory material. Public hearings were held in early 2000.

MCS activists across the country organized to get chemical and electrical sensitivity access included in the updated regulations. They gave testimony by speakerphone and letter; some risked their health to attend hearings in person. Speakers included McCampbell, Lamielle of the National Center for Environmental Health Strategies, Plumlee of NCCI, Betty Bridges of the Fragranced Products Information Network and Wilkie of Environmental Health Network.

An overwhelming number of comments, said the Access Board, concerned access for people with MCS. While some MCS activists simply sought to force the Board to recognize MCS as a disability that requires access and accommodation, others provided specific regulatory suggestions, calling for setting standards for use of toxic chemicals and "volatile organic compounds" and for removing perfumes, deodorizers and "fragrance-emission devices and systems" from restrooms and ventilation systems. Others pushed for signboards outside buildings on which notices relating to chemical access would be posted. Still other comments called for creating accessible "paths of travel" in public buildings for people with chemical or electromagnetic sensitivity. "Path of travel" language is already in the guidelines; for MCS, the provision would include a chemical-free route from the car or bus, through the building, and into a "safe room."

 

IAQ in Public Buildings

The Board had been moving to deal with the issue of indoor air quality in public buildings; last August it issued a notice to solicit bids from IAQ contractors "to conduct a collaborative process among architects and builders, manufacturers of building products and materials, and others to examine possible actions that can be taken during the next five years to improve the accessibility of indoor environments." The bid solicitation process was canceled in January, however, because the "bids received were over budget," according to Access Board General Counsel Jim Raggio. The decision as to "how and whether to proceed with the project" had not been made when Ragged Edge went to press.

 

New cleaner air symbol lays groundwork for further ADAAG advocacy

MCS activism has not been limited to the U.S. Access Board. In December, the Committee on Architectural Features and Site Design of Public Buildings and Residential Structures for Persons with Disabilities, also known as "Accredited Standards Committee A117," adopted a "Cleaner Air" symbol. While not a government agency, Committee A117 is part of the American National Standards Institute, an influential nonprofit organization that has significant impact on government regulation. This organization is the one that promotes the use of other familiar disability access-related symbols such as the TTY symbol, the wheelchair access symbol, and the "volume control telephone" symbol.

Sharon Toji, who specializes in access-related sign design and who designed the symbol, was present at its adoption ceremony, as were Lamielle and Plumlee. Molloy, who was not present, has been working for adoption of the Cleaner Air Symbol since 1983.

Although the "Cleaner Air" symbol was approved, a precise definition of "cleaner air" has not been adopted; nor have guidelines been finalized as to when it's appropriate to use the symbol. Current proposals call for its use to "identify a room, facility, or path of travel that is designed to be accessible to and usable by persons with respiratory disabilities who are adversely impacted by airborne chemicals or particulate(s) and/or the use of electrical fixtures and/or devices" or to identify a place in which there is "no new carpeting or wall treatment within the past year, no fluorescent lights, usable ventilation systems, no deodorizers or fragrance emission devices in the vicinity, and signs that request occupants not to smoke or wear scented products in the room, facility, or path of travel."

 

AROUND THE STATES . . .

California adopts Cleaner Air Symbol

Molloy, Lamielle and Plumlee have all worked on the cleaner air effort for years. Last November, Plumlee was present when the California Building Standards Commission adopted the Cleaner Air Symbol, along with "a more elaborate explanation of what it means." Plumlee says that even though the symbol will "be sent out for comment, it is likely to remain an official symbol for clean air after the comment period." He suggests that advocates cite last November's California Building Standards Commission's decision when work to get the signage adopted in their own states.

"One of the most valuable aspects" of California's action, says Molloy, is "the California Building Code definition of our rooms and path of travel." Places using the signage must "have accessible switches we can use to turn off fluorescents, computers, microwave ovens, or other painful electronic equipment in the area we are going to be using."

"If I had not been alert and persistent, both before and during the ANSI meeting, the signage may have been adopted for respiratory problems only," said Lamielle, who added that both Marilyn Golden and Marsha Mazz of the Access Board staff "lobbied ANSI board members to get sufficient votes for adoption of the signage.

"Even now the process is far from over," she said.

Plumlee encourages people with MCS to ask their doctors to display the Cleaner Air Symbol. "It's quite appropriate that clinics designed to be safe places for people with chemical sensitivities begin to display this symbol."

Massachusetts to add IAQ concerns to building codes

Working off a tip from Stavros ILC staffer Janet Shaw that the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board planned to have IAQ guidelines in place by 2003, members of the Environmental Health Coalition of Western Massachusetts contacted the Massachusetts Board of Building Regulations and Standards. They had been told that the BBRS was working on getting IAQ issues into the state building code. Reportedly, the state Access Board had considered including MCS access issues three years earlier, but decided it would duplicate BBRS efforts. EHCWM members Dorothy Baker and the author contacted the BBRS, and also stressed to Access Board staff that many access issues would not be covered by building codes, including many of those articulated to the national Access Board last spring including signage and eliminating use of pesticide along the accessible path of travel. As of this writing, Massachusettts activists have not received a satisfactory response to their efforts.


What is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity?

From the U.S. Access Board:
There are many people who experience unpleasant physical effects from scented products such as perfumes and colognes. Sometimes it might be a headache or nausea when passing by a department store's fragrance counter or riding in an elevator with someone wearing a certain fragrance. However, there is a growing number of people who suffer more severe reactions to these and many other types of products and chemicals. This condition is known as multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) and involves people who have developed an acute sensitivity to various chemicals in the environment. People with MCS experience a range of debilitating physical reactions, (some even life-threatening) to chemicals used in a variety of products, including fragrances and personal care products, deodorizers and cleaners, pesticides, wall and floor coverings and building materials.

It's a complex issue with a variety of triggering agents and physical reactions. Different people are affected by different products in different ways. The common factor is that the reaction, whatever the type, is very strong and disabling.


For further information, or to take action on these issues:

NATIONALLY:

For further information on MCS or the Access Board's fragrance-free policy, contact the Access Board at info@access-board.gov or call (202) 272-5434 ext. 116 (voice) or (202) 272-5449 (TTY).

To see the official document, go to http://www.access-board.gov/news/fragrance.htm

For more information on the IAQ pre-solicitation notice, go to http://www.eps.gov/spg/TREAS/BPD/DP/RFQ-01-F063/SynopsisP.html.

The solicitation notice itself is posted at the FedBizOpps Web site: http://www.fedbizopps.gov.

To request a hard copy of the solicitation and any amendments by mail, contact Kim Hendrick, Contract specialist, by fax at (304) 480-7203, by e-mail at procurement@bpd.treas.gov, or by phone at (304) 480-7125.

To view the Cleaner Air Symbol, go to http://users.lanminds.com/~wilworks/ehnlinx/pclnair.html

MASSACHUSETTS

Call or write the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board and ask for inclusion of MCS issues in AAB regulations. Contact Deborah Ryan, Mass. Architectural Access Board, One Ashburton Place, Room 1310, Boston, MA 02108, (800) 828-7222 or (617) 727-0660, Web site: http://www.state.ma.us/aab.

Calls or letters to the Board of Building Regulations and Standards, demanding that IAQ considerations are included in new building codes are also important. Contact Thomas M. Riley, Code Development Manager at One Ashburton Place, Room 1301, Boston, MA 02108, telephone: (617) 727-7532, fax: (617) 227-1754, Web site: http://www.state.ma.us/bbrs/. Massachusetts residents who would like a list of requested changes to architectural access and building codes may e-mail Wachsler at SWachsler@aol.com.

Sharon Wachsler is an MCS activist and a very funny person. For proof, check out her website, http://www.SickHumorPostcards.com.

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