Survival Guide | What
to do if exposed to chemicals |
Points to remember |
Here we dedicated space to environmental ill health, environmental
illnesses, learning, training, protecting yourself and your family
from chemicals in your environment.
Toxic and Chemical Poisoning –
"You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which
you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour".
Lord Atkin - Donoghue v Stevenson 1932.
Chemicals are part of life. But what if your health or property
is damaged because of the careless actions of others be they manufacturers
or employers or others?
Toxic and chemical poisoning litigation is part of the general law
of tort that gives rights to those damaged by the wrongful actions
of others. Claims may arise for damages (compensation) for personal
injuries or personal nuisance. Nuisance actions involve damage to
property whereas personal injury actions concern damage to people.
Nuisance actions have arisen due to industrial plant emissions and
for example where agricultural "spraydrift" occurs. Such
incidents are sometimes unmistakable but others may be difficult
It is impossible to list all of the chemicals, substances and toxins
injurious to human health. Here are some: -
• Pesticides incl. organochlorines
lindane and PCP [pentachlorophenol], organophosphates and carbamates
• Solvents incl. Trichloroethylene, MEK, isocyanates and
Disinfectants - Glutaraldehyde
• Metal(s) incl. lead, chrome, and cadmium)
• Carbon Monoxide
• Acrylamide poisoning
• Soldering fumes
• Aluminium Sulphate- water contamination
• Biological agents- Sick Building Syndrome
• Pharmaceuticals- vaccine damage
General tort law is effectively encapsulated
in the concept of "duty of care" owed by one individual
(or company) to another. This duty was set out in the landmark case
of Donoghue v Stevenson(1932). The "neighbour principle"
which states that you must take reasonable care to avoid acts or
omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure
For a personal injury claim to succeed a Plaintiff (the person bringing
the claim) must prove that the Defendant owed a duty of care and
that the duty has been breached resulting in damage.
The extent of the duty of reasonable care of an employer to an employee
has been said by the Courts to be that the law in all cases exacts
a degree of care commensurate with the risk created. There are numerous
specific statutory and regulatory laws concerning chemical processes
and hazard prevention. Should such regulations be breached this
will invariably result in evidence of primary liability. The most
cited regulations in toxic/chemical litigation today are undoubtedly
the COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations
Legal actions for the acute (significant) effects of chemicals are
generally successful whereas the chronic and long term low dose
cases are far more difficult to prove.
Undoubtedly the major difficulty for any Plaintiff seeking to recover
damages for personal injuries as a result of chemical poisoning
is proving causation. That is whether or not the particular chemical
caused the injury concerned. It is insufficient that the evidence
indicates a possible cause. It must be proven to be the probable
cause not one amongst other competing causes. (Wilsher v Essex Health
There is a critical distinction between medical literature suggesting
association and actual proof. The standard of proof required in
the civil court to succeed in a claim is in excess of 51%. This
is called the "balance of probabilities" and a medical
expert must testify that it is "more likely than not"
that the injury/disease was so caused.
The Court will require proof of the following: -
Is the chemical/toxin capable of causing injury to humans; what
was the extent of the dose and did it cause this individual's injury.
A critical aspect to proving a claim is establishing dose and absorption.
A further concern is "specific" causation, in other words,
the individual facts of exposure. An individual's reaction to a
particular chemical may depend upon that person's constitution.
Susceptibility may well play a part. Chemicals may also cause an
idiosyncratic response to which the legal maxim the "Egg shell
skull" rule will apply i.e. you must take your victim as you
find him or her. So if you are vulnerable, that will not affect
your right to claim as long as some injury would have occurred to
the non vulnerable.
Chemical products and exposures invariably contain combinations
of chemicals. Synergistic reactions occur because of combinations
of chemicals which may well cause additive effects far and above
that expected of single chemical dose and exposure. No case has
yet to be decided directly on this issue but as exposure and injury
by chemicals is invariably multi factorial the Courts will address
this issue. Multiple chemical sensitivity sufferers and those with
"environmental" illnesses are watching the progress of
Court actions with increasing interest, particularly developments
in the USA.
Nuisance actions for chemical damage to property (rather than human
poisoning) have arisen mainly as a result of industrial plant emissions.
However, more recently as with human chemical poisoning court actions
to "make the polluter pay" have been the objective.
Nuisance claims are often resolved promptly. Other cases have been
highly difficult to prove in Court. As an example, a number of cases
involving dioxin (an unwanted by-product/ contaminant found in pesticides
and industrial emissions) have been tried by the courts.
What to do if exposed to
chemicals - Personal care
Remove yourself immediately from the source of exposure
Remove cloths (wash or destroy)
Thorough personal wash – shower is best
Get plenty of fresh air
Drink at least 5 pints of water daily
Take Vitamin C
Drink diluted fruit juice
Have Epsom salt baths to draw out toxins
Have saunas (not to exceed 70 oC)
Gently exercise while in sauna to encourage release of toxins
Shower after sauna
Collect samples (if possible) and store in glass jar
Notify the Environmental Health Department (EHD)
Identify chemical(s) and its properties (COSHH)
Contact the EHD for safety data sheets of chemical
See a GP (to log occurrence onto medical file)
Collect any evidence
Get witness statements if appropriate
Take photographs (of you and site)
Keep diary of events and symptoms
MCS Survival Guide -
HOW CAN SUFFERERS HELP THEMSELVES?
1 Eat mostly organics
if you can afford it. Avoid GM foods.
2 Drink mineral
water (Spring water does not have the same controls).
3 Avoid all
the '-oides', pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, biocides, bactericides,
miticides. If it ends in -cide it is designed to kill living organisms.
You are a living organism.
and cleaners - Read all the small print and get to know what it
all means. There are now two very good paperback books that can
help. Cosmetics Unmasked by Stephen and Gina Antzak (Thersons),
and Cleaning Yourself to Death by Pat Thomas (NewLeaf). Both under
£10. For cleaning, remember what our ancestors used, before
modern chemicals. Try bicarbonate, washing soda, Borax, vinegar,
lemon, salt. For room fragrance and in wardrobes try natural lavender,
rosemary, cloves, citron peel. Remember that not all environmentally
friendly alternatives may be MCS friendly, so you may need to avoid
pine, terpenes, tea tree oil, eucalyptus, etc.
5 Find your
boundaries and learn to live within them, without apology or embarrassment.
Food, lifestyle, bedtimes, where you go, what you have in your home,
are for you to decide, with whatever compromises you choose. You
are the one who will live with the result. Try to do it with tact,
not desperation. Also, make a list of the ten most important things
for you do to do each day and then strike off the last five in order
to conserve your energy by resting.
6 Tell your
friends what you want to avoid in your home. It is your home. If
they are friends, they will understand.
7 Ask neighbours
to warn you about spraying, painting, etc. so that you can shut
yourself indoors safely or go away for a few days.
8 If you feel
claustrophobic when behind closed windows and doors, run small fans
or air purifiers to keep the air moving. (Beware scented filters
with the latter. Ask for them to be changed for plain.)
- make sure doctors or hospitals know your problems. You might need
a Medicare bracelet.
- take your own mineral water for rinsing, and your own safe toothpaste.
(Nelsons Homeopathic is possible - if not try bicarbonate of soda.)
vigorously about any unnecessary perfume use. Stamps, scented railway
stations. scented soaps in public toilets (Some in machines that
will only deliver water after powerfully scented soap.) Air fresheners
in taxis. Unsolicited samples in magazines.
12 Fight for
the right treatment for YOU. e.g. Homeopathy or other form of alternative
yourself by always getting the Data Sheets for chemical products,
and by fighting for right to ALL of them, including the Material
Safety Sheets for Chemically Impregnated Manufactured Domestic Goods.
14 Most importantly
you know your own body, listen to it - you are the best judge of
yourself and your body’s reactions.
travelling get plenty of rest as likelihood of not being effected
in some way by your journey is unlikely. Wear a carbon filter mask
to protect yourself, and be wary of any cleaners put into car windscreen
washes by the garage.
How to help others help you.
Holding onto social relationships is one of the biggest problems
for MCS sufferers. An MCS sufferer will not only have encountered
loss of income but also loss of benefits from interacting with others.
Sadly, MCS isolates sufferers from most normal activities, yet we
all need to socialise.
Points to remember:-
1 Keep needs
simple. Whilst you may react to many chemicals, pick the worst ones
and keep your explanation simple e.g. for fragrance intolerance
the sufferer might say, “I require a fragrance-free room.
That means no perfumes, aftershaves, colognes, scented soaps, or
wearing clothes that have come into contact with scent.”
your limitations. Keep outings short and well within your energy
3 Keep commitments.
Sufferers are able to keep doctors or dentist appointments by conserving
energy by getting enough rest. Cancelling appointments will undermine
relationships. Remember, don’t diminish the value of another’s
time. People will have set aside and in most cases made changes
to accommodate being with an MCS sufferer.
in a way others can relate to.
To explain the heightened sense of smell, a sufferer may say, “If
there is ever a job to ferret out chemicals scents, I’ll have
When explaining reactions, keep it simple. Something like, “Scented
products cause me to have asthma attacks.”
5 Make plans.
People with MCS need something to look forward to. We all need to
lift our spirits at times and provide us with something else to
talk about besides being ill.
6 Make a short
list, prioritising the items that most effect your health. List
exposure sources, the symptoms these will cause and how long they
will last. Keep this list to just one page which can be read to
relatives and friends—you’ll be surprised how effective
this can be.
7 Try not
to preach about chemicals—allow people to understand for themselves,
and help them to understand. MCS sufferers need to take responsibility
to help not only friend and relatives understand, but also the wider
community. Preaching will cause alienation.
An example guide handout.
This is to help you understand my illness so we can continue to
spend time together. I am made ill by many products and that illness
sometimes last for more than 48 hours. Here’s a list of what
All scented products such as ....
Before I can come over, it you can put these items away or cover
them with plastic, it will help me. If it is too much trouble perhaps
we can meet at my house or take my car?
The above should be modified for each individual and their particular
of MCS | Recognition
of MCS | Personal
Issues | Coming to
terms with MCS | Lifestyle
tips for immune system
Exposure can happen to anyone -
even at home
In ordinary things and places like:
food, water and air; offices, shops, schools, homes; cosmetics,
cleaning products; clothing, leather goods; paints, varnishes, waxes;
bug sprays, mothballs; cooking and heating appliances; sick buildings;
new homes; fresh paint, new carpets and furnishings, you can encounter
pesticides, solvents, heavy metals, toxic gases and particles which
are nervous system poisons, irritants, allergens, sensitizers and
create indoor air pollution.
Some people are more sensitive than others for instance the very
young, the pregnant, the chronically ill, the allergic and asthmatic,
the immune suppressed, the elderly, the poor and the malnourished.
Others are at risk because of where they work or because of what
they do for a living. It is important to realize that some people
have overwhelming but unrecognized exposures at home, at work or
school or at play. Chemicals individually or combined can make you
so sick that you are no longer able to function or live normally.
Currently MCS is not yet officially recognised in the UK .
Symptoms of MCS
The problem with MCS is that people do react differently to the
same exposure hence the difficulty in diagnosis. However there are
familiar symptoms ranging from mild to disabling. e.g. fatigue (often
chronic), confusion, rashes, joint pain, bronchitis, watery eyes,
nausea, memory loss, headache, hypertension, asthma, muscle spasms,
sleep disturbances, stuffy nose swollen limbs and sore throat to
mention just a few.
In someone whose immune system has been compromised and damaged
even the slightest of exposures can trigger any of the above symptoms.
It is imperative to identify and avoid exposures in order to control
the symptoms of MCS. However in this world that can be hard if you
want a near ‘normal’ life so we also advise what steps
you should take if you have had an exposure.
Achieving recognition of MCS
A study showed one billion people suffer from MCS (WHO,1999) and
also found 7 out of 10 sufferers are women & children. Another
interesting fact which emerges is that ten years ago there were
1 in 850,000 who suffered from autism type syndromes – today
the figure is 8 in 150. At the present time there is no treatment
protocol for these people therefore resulting in either the sufferers
being prescribed tranquilisers such as Prozac or Ritalin or the
worst detained under the 1983 Mental Health Act.
According to the Royal College of Physicians report (25 June 2003)
one in three of the population (equivalent to 18 million people)
will be affected by an allergy during his or her lifetime and the
report warns of an alarming increase in serious allergies that can
provoke life-threatening reactions.
On the 1 June 2003 the European Commission launched a strategy to
reduce diseases linked to environmental factors.
The time has come to make the voice of MCS sufferers heard in the
media, in government and professional bodies. It is time MCS is
First of all allow yourself the credit
for coping with MCS so far because by doing so it will make it easier
to move forward.
baggage – although MCS is not psychological any baggage
you may already be carrying will effect your energy levels with
which to cope with the MCS. Resolve any issues to reduce any limitations
they place on you thereby allowing you to cope more constructively
with your MCS.
– you are going to have to negotiate your social life
therefore be aware and be prepared to be assertive. Being assertive
(if you’re not normally) may mean facing a big fear of rejection.
You can expect to be knocked back by some people but don't give
up - reasonable people will respect you for standing up for yourself.
self-worth - these issues may arise if you have experienced
negative reactions from people regarding your MCS. You need to ‘stay
tough’, see things for what they are and then keep going forward.
– many people relate their achievement to their productivity
at work. MCS interferes with this productivity thereby lowering
a person’s self worth. Consider adjusting your career to one
more fitted to the effects of MCS, remember everyone has something
– If you normally have trouble getting things done consider
compiling ‘to do lists’ and keep to them. Don’t
use MCS as an excuse for not doing things. Even reward yourself
for any accomplishment(s).
Style – Whether you are an extrovert or introvert will
influence how you emotionally deal with MCS. Search for things to
do and keep yourself from being isolated; keep that connection to
the outside world.
There are two groups of reactions.
People with MCS react directly to the source of exposure in a physical
way and react secondly with the long term reality of living with
Keeping a log of direct reactions
and activities will enable you to identify environmental trigger
factors. Often people feel out of control with direct reactions
to exposures; it is so important to be aware and take special care
of your behaviour if you have been exposed e.g. when driving, interacting
with others, verbalising and importantly when making decisions.
Secondary reactions and effects may
include any of the following; loss, isolation, fear, anger and frustration,
obsessive/compulsive disorders, self blame, lack of choice regarding
emotional reactions, lack of privacy regarding health, loss of choice
regarding lifestyle, negative attitudes towards authorities and
conventional medicine and the loss of a stable continuous identity.
|Negative responses experienced
by sufferers include:-
‘This is not really me’
Feeling ‘tired, empty and strange’
Life has been ‘hijacked’
Difficultly in talking to others
Loss of self esteem
Feel like a burden
Hate being dependent on others i.e. loss of independence
Feeling angry and irritable
Expression of unfairness at losing control over behaviour when
Loss of personality, energy, ambition
Some pretend to be ‘normal’ and will expose themselves
to toxic environment to keep ‘normality’
Keep secret the effect of direct reaction if possible to keep
Confusion in re-planning your life, redefining your goals
‘Robbed’ of identity
from familiar roles as relationships change or disappear
want old life back
wish it had never happened
masks take away one's identity
sadness, envy, resentment, longing, depression seeing ‘normal’
life unreal, almost surreal
displacement from the home, from belongings, and from your own
Life has no meaning
|Positive responses experienced
by sufferers include:-
listen to tapes
Increased knowledge by researching everything in order to keep
Exploration of oneself and experience personal growth
Gaining perspective of activities and value aspects of your
Connecting to new relationships e.g. self help groups, activist
Integration through support, patience, time (and for some spirituality).
Construction of self and life which encompasses MCS
Learn to live in today
More self aware, ability to listen to the body and use own intuition
Accept that you are a worthwhile person even with MCS
Realise that doctors don’t have
all the answers. Realise that you are not the problem – it’s
the synthetic chemicals in the environment which are. It is possible
to survive this life-rearranging condition, as a challenge MCS is
hard to beat!
Coming to terms
with living with MCS - a chronic disease
Stop trying to find a cure
Accept the illness and do your best to find as many ways as possible
to keep yourself comfortable, busy, stress-free, and well nourished
with good food.
Find ways to relax and socialise
Don’t feel sorry for yourself everyone has health problems;
this is yours.
Make the best of things because you can’t change it; those
who pressure themselves to find a cure often end up making it worse.
Educate those who want to learn and stop tying to convince those
Adapting to chronic illness can create problems within
intimate relationships, creates dependency issues, difficulty is
experienced in ‘achieving’ through disability and associated
obstacles and a deeper problem of the disfigurement which may occur
and even anxiety concerns to do with death.
Goodheart and Lansing (1) describe six stages:
1 Initial response - recognition that
something is wrong and it is not going away.
2 Awareness of Chronicity
–Anxiety, doubt and fear and denial – a period of ambiguity
which can create a grief reaction.
3 Disorganisation –
disturbances at work, in education, in family roles and in the quality
of life results in frustration and anger which leads onto social
isolation. The sufferer experiences a sense of loss of self and
identity as well as loss of contact from people around them
4 Intensified wish for a cure
– the desire to return to ‘normal’ makes the sufferer
search for help through conventional and alternative avenues. The
element of self blame may enter which might make a sufferer think
they are in some way to blame for what has happened to them e.g.
by not trying hard enough in some avenue of their life; while opposite
to this some sufferers may blame over doing things as the root problem.
In both cases the belief that one can control their illness creates
a sense of hope.
5 Acknowledgement of Helplessness
–On recognition that the problem cannot be undone the sufferer
enters a stage of grief, loss and mourning. At the same time adaptation
can now begin by forming coping strategies and mechanisms; everybody
has to cope in their own way.
6 Adaptation to Illness
– Strength comes from acceptance, time spent meanfully and
taking personal responsibility for your life. Acceptance also allows
a choice to be made as to what level you want to approach your chronic
illness. Remember there are paths to chose and not everyone will
chose the same path but by accepting the condition the sufferer
is then opened to healing.
1 Goodheart, C.D., and M.H. Lansing. 1997.
Treating People with Chronic Disease: A Psychological Guide. Washington,
DC American Psychological Association.
Lifestyle tips for
better immune function top
What else can you do to strengthen
your immune function? The following guidelines
offer a general blueprint for better immunity and overall health:
- Improve your stress-management skills.
Develop a more positive attitude.
Reduce or eliminate your caffeine and alcohol intake.
If you smoke, stop.
Reduce your consumption of refined sugar.
Get at least seven hours of sleep a night.
Exercise at least three times a week, if you can for 20 minutes.
Eat a low-fat, high-fibre, nutrient-rich diet, with an emphasis
on whole, unprocessed foods.
Fortify your diet with high-quality supplements.
Support of a Healthy Immune System
- Regular exercise
Healthy diet, emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables
Avoid environmental toxins and exposures to them.
Vitamins and Minerals - particularly vitamins A, C, and E, zinc
Antioxidants - especially vitamin E, OPC’s (grape seed extract)
Essential Fatty Acids - omega-3 (DHA, EPA)
Herbs and Phytonutrients - echinacea, astragalus, ginseng, mushroom
extracts (maitake, shiitake, reishi), andrographis
What to try to avoid