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The number one way you can help someone with Chemical Sensitivities is to go fragrance-free yourself. This will reduce their exposure and allow them to have a friend they can be around without getting sick. It will take some research to figure out exactly what products you are using on your body and in your home that are making your friend sick, but it will be well worth the effort. It will safeguard your own health as well. For specific information and guidelines, see How To Go Fragrance-Free/Non-Toxic.
Here are several other ways you can help people with Chemical Sensitivities and also help create change on a larger scale:
Offer emotional support. Listen to what they’re going through and empathize with their situation. Don’t judge. Don’t assume they are exaggerating the problem or not trying hard enough. This is an incredibly difficult condition to live with and you have never been in their shoes.
Empower them. Especially if they are very ill, help them find some inner strength and encourage the use of coping skills and outside support. Connect with information resources such as The Chemical Injury Information Network. Help them to find a few things in their lives to be happy about and look forward to. For someone who is very sick, it is far too easy to get stuck in a state of hopelessness and depression. Help link them to communities of support for people with CS, maybe a local support group if there is one available, or an online resource such as Planet Thrive.
Call them and initiate contact. Most chemically sensitive people are socially isolated and could use some connection. If they are not able to be around you because of your fragrances, don’t assume they don’t want you in their life. You can still connect with them by phone and they will most likely appreciate the opportunity. Depending on how sensitive they are, you may be able to see them in an outdoors setting for a predetermined amount of time.
Educate yourself. Take the time to learn more about Chemical Sensitivities and how it affects your friend’s health and everyday living. Do not assume that they will tell you everything you need to know. It is often a hard issue for the chemically sensitive person to bring up because so many people get offended by it. Educating yourself could mean researching the issue online or simply asking your friend to tell you more about their specific sensitivities.
Educate others. Share what you have learned about Chemical Sensitivities and fragrance-free, non-toxic living with other people. Encourage them to research the issue and to go fragrance-free themselves. Make sure they understand that fragrances and chemically based products can damage their own health as well. A healthy person speaking up about these issues can even be more powerful than a person with CS doing so, as they are less likely to be dismissed as neurotic or biased. For an easy way to educate others, put one of our Bumper Stickers on your car or print and distribute one of our Educational Materials.
Offer transportation. If your car is fragrance-free, you can offer a ride to doctors’ appointments and other places. Many times when a chemically sensitive person goes out into the community, it is a toxic and taxing adventure. They get sick from the things they are exposed to and this makes driving very difficult.
Offer to do errands for them. Shopping is incredibly difficult for chemically sensitive people, as described in the section, “What’s It Like to Live With Chemical Sensitivities.” If you can help buy groceries or other basic needs for your friend, this will reduce their exposure and help to preserve their energy and stamina. Clothing, department, and electronic stores are some of the worst places for a chemically sensitive person to go, so without a little help, they may not be able to get these needs met.
Offer a place to stay. Housing is a constant struggle for the chemically sensitive person and there are times that they will need a short-term or long-term place to stay. You can help if your home is fragrance-free, mold-free, and built without a lot of chemically-based materials (or not built or renovated too recently). This is a much needed and very hard to find resource.
Advocate for change at the local level. If you are a member of any civic or community group or a frequenter of a particular store or business, take note of the products they use in their buildings and on their grounds. Speak up when you notice air fresheners in bathrooms or pesticides sprayed on lawns. Encourage them to implement fragrance-free policies for their members or staff so that chemically sensitive people can still be involved in their communities.
Advocate for change at the governmental/policy-making level. A lot of work needs to be done to correct the way fragrance and other chemically based products are regulated. We need to have a system that only approves safe products for distribution and safe practices for governments and organizations. Unfortunately, chemically sensitive people often do not have the energy to advocate for these changes themselves. Do a little research and find ways that you can share your friend’s story and work for large-scale change. A good place to start is the Environmental Working Group’s Action Center,
where you can sign petitions, contact federal and state policymakers,
and learn about the issues at stake. Also consider drafting your own
letter to send to policy-makers. You can find an example of such a
letter at the MCS Beacon of Hope Foundation -
this letter is several years old and has a more specific purpose than
you may need, but it will give you a good idea of how to approach the
issue when talking with policy-makers. There are many organizations working on these issues, so spend some time online to find other groups to get involved with.
Change one thing. If you can’t or aren’t willing to go completely fragrance-free, at least consider changing one product you are using that contains fragrance or other chemicals. Just changing one product will help somewhat - and more importantly, it will give you an opportunity to see how easy it is to make a difference.
Ask them how you can help. Tell them you care about them and listen to what they need. They may have other ideas that aren’t listed here, but they may not share them with you until you ask.
If you are an employer or business owner, you have a unique opportunity to be of help. You may have an employee or customer with Chemical Sensitivities and you may have already been asked to help in certain ways. But even if not, it is important that you consider the fragrances and other chemicals you use and how this affects your employees and customers. This is especially true for doctor’s offices which should ideally be as safe as possible for the chemically sensitive and other patients. Please read our section Advice for Employers & Business Owners for more guidance and resources.
If you are a doctor, take your patients seriously when they tell you of their sensitivity to chemicals and fragrances. Even if you don’t understand the physiological mechanisms of what is happening to them, don’t assume it’s all in their heads. Have compassion and, more importantly, an open mind. Recognize that you don’t know everything and be willing to search for answers when you don’t have them readily available. If you have a patient who is very sick and disabled, remember that your evaluation of their condition could make or break their ability to seek financial support such as SSDI, and therefore, their ability to live. Also look at the sections How To Go Fragrance-Free/Non-Toxic and Advice for Employers & Business Owners and follow these guidelines to make your office as safe as possible for chemically sensitive people to visit.
If you are a landlord, architect, or building developer you also have a great opportunity to help people with Chemical Sensitivities. Safe housing for people with CS is incredibly hard to find because of the toxicity of most mainstream building materials. Make a commitment to use safe, non-toxic products in construction, maintenance, and lawn-care as much as possible. Implement policies that will keep your air and land clean, such as no smoking on the property. You can even require tenants to use fragrance-free laundry products in the shared laundry facilities. For more information on the housing needs of people with CS, please check out the non-profit Re-Shelter, the article "Understanding & Accommodating People with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity in Independent Living" by Pamela Reed Gibson, Ph.D., or contact us.
If you are a developer or a philanthropist and you want to help a population in dire need, please consider creating safe housing complexes for people with Chemical Sensitivities. Housing is often the biggest problem for people with CS and far too many end up homeless or stuck in a home that is worsening their illness. Having safe housing available in a community with other chemically sensitive (and therefore fragrance-free) people would be a huge help. This is needed all over the world. See bullet above for more information.
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