After writing columns featuring people with multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome (MCSS), I usually hear from readers. For once, they say, someone has treated a person with their disability respectfully. Six months ago, yet another reader emailed after one of my MCSS columns appeared in her newspaper, the Spencer Evening World (Indiana).
The National Institute of Environmental Health Science defines MCSS as a “chronic, recurring disease caused by a person’s inability to tolerate an environmental chemical or class of foreign chemicals.”
Here is 72-year-old Nancy Job’s story. “In the late ’70s, I owned a beauty shop and worked part-time in Bloomington,” she said in a telephone interview. “Before work in Bloomington, often I’d put just one drop of musk on my neck and before long my nose started running. Then I started coughing hard. I was in a big room with others, and my coughing nearly got me fired.”
While working at her beauty shop, she began having a runny nose and coughing spells when people came in wearing perfume. Also, her system couldn’t tolerate being in stores selling potpourri or chemicals. Her tongue tingled, her throat swelled, and her eyes watered.
Years later, she began working at Wal-Mart, and sometimes customers would use perfume testers and shove their perfumed hands toward her. “To me, the perfume smelled like Black Flag,” she said.
The condition affects her lifestyle. “For one, I don’t go to church because of all the men wearing aftershave and the women perfume,” she said. “When I went, I used to cough and cough, and have to sit there with a Kleenex over my nose. People don’t think their perfume could cause problems for someone else.”
Last week at a restaurant, a man wearing heavy aftershave sat near Job and her sister. They had to leave.
To cope, she avoids air fresheners, dryer sheets, certain shampoos and detergents, fabric softeners, and spray deodorants. She can’t use her local swimming pool. Also, as a poll worker, for this election she had to transfer to another precinct because the prior one had a poll worker that wore perfume.
“There are many people who have this, and people that don’t have it just don’t understand,” she said. “That’s why I was glad to read your column mentioning it.” She advised people to “tone down” cologne and perfume use, especially in enclosed places, such as churches and stores.