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Public Comment Needed by Monday, August 18, 2008: Chemical Sensitivity Omitted from Americans with Disabilities Act Proposed Regs

(Beyond Pesticides, August 15, 2008) With a public comment period that ends Monday, August 18, 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice, Disability Rights Section, Civil Rights Division proposes rulemaking that fails to recognize chemical sensitivity (CS) and environmental illnesses as disabilities that may require specific access standards. In a public comment to be submitted next week, Beyond Pesticides urges the Justice Department to specifically include access requirements for those with CS and environmental illnesses in its rulemaking. The organization is urging the public to send comments as well, and invites sign-ons to the Beyond Pesticides’ comment.

The comment says, “The proposed rule errs in omitting environmental illness and chemical sensitivity with a justification that people with the illness may have a “sensitivity [that does] not rise to the level needed to constitute a disability.” This statement is false and out of step with environmental medicine which diagnoses CS as a chemical-induced illness from which patients suffer with debilitating effects. Similar to other disabilities, a diagnosis reflects a finding that patients cannot function as a result of exposure to neurotoxic chemicals. Eliminating the chemical exposure substantially increases their ability to function and lead normal lives.”

The comment continues, “As an organization whose primary focus is pesticides, Beyond Pesticides is in contact with people who are chemically sensitive and are exposed to pesticides, thus substantially limiting their life activities on a regular basis. These are people whose disability is not well understood or accepted by the general public, which is uninformed about the illness. In conveying their concerns to neighbors, employers or landlords they often receive ridicule instead of respect and accommodation. Without mentioning in the text of the accessibility standards of the ADA that those with chemical sensitivities are indeed protected when life activities are substantially limited and that they have specific access requirements, people with CS often cannot get their needs addressed without individual lawsuits to prove their disability. This becomes a burden and barrier to protection.”

The comment points to a 1992 memorandum issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that recognizes CS and environmental illness as a “handicap,” with all the protections afforded those disabled by this illness. The comment reads, “In a 1992 memorandum entitled “Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Disorder and Environmental Illness as Handicaps,” the Office of General Counsel in the Department of Housing and Urban Development clearly defines MCS and environmental illness as “handicaps” within the meaning of subsection 802(h) of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 3602(h), and the Department’s implementing regulations, 24 C.F.R. Section 100.201 (1991).” Rather than equivocate on this debilitating condition, protection should be ensured under the proposed rulemaking beyond one’s place of residence.”

Beyond Pesticides’ comment includes the story and recommendation of a former physical education teacher and coach in Kansas who writes:

With proper accommodation, I would still be teaching and coaching today! Officially recognizing not only the life-changing severity of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, but also the value of “avoidance” in treating it would help building administrators understand how to keep employees with this disability on the job. I have many friends who are also disabled by MCS. Not one of them wanted to quit their job! But lack of accommodation caused their illness to progress to the point where they could no longer work. MCS takes a huge toll on individual lives and results in unnecessary loss of productivity. I urge you to officially recognize Multiple Chemical Sensitivity/Environmental Illness as a disability requiring accommodation for accessibility. The chemical barriers that prevent those with MCS from entering buildings are every bit as limiting as lack of a ramp would be to someone in a wheelchair. Those with MCS deserve the same rights as other citizens. Recognizing MCS as a “qualified disability” would go a long way toward achieving equal access for everyone!

Beyond Pesticides suggests that the rulemaking include the following language: “Integrated pest management (IPM) practices to protect those disabled with chemical sensitivity (CS) or environmental illnesses and ensure access are required in public facilities or properties to include the following practices: identification of pests and conditions that attract pests; prevention techniques, such as sanitation, vacuuming, structural repair and sealing; monitoring; education and training; approved least toxic chemicals whose use does not, by virtue of its neurotoxic or other properties, impair the abilities of those with CS; and pre-notification and posting of chemical use.”

The full text of Beyond Pesticides’ comment can be seen here. Thanks to Mary Lamielle of the National Center for Environmental Health Strategies for alerting us to the comment period. Read her comments here.

TAKE ACTION: Access the Federal Register and submit comments electronically here. Click on the yellow dialogue bubble that says “add comments.” If you would like to sign on to Beyond Pesticides’ comment, please contact Natalie Lounsbury, [email protected], 202-543-5450, by 3:00pm (EDT) on Monday, August 18, 2008.


15 Responses to “Public Comment Needed by Monday, August 18, 2008: Chemical Sensitivity Omitted from Americans with Disabilities Act Proposed Regs”

  1. 1
    Susie Says:

    Thank you for this report! Will get my comment in by Monday. The feds need to all get on the same page with this.

  2. 2
    Rebecca ONeil Says:

    I never knew until 5 years ago what was making me so sick. I have Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. I was working in a manufacturing plant as Human Resourse/OSHA Training/Payroll manager. I had to give up a job I loved in Indiana because of chemicals and pesticides. It took 4 years to get my Social Security Disability because the Government skirts around MCS as a disability. Thank goodness for govenors of over 1/2 of the states to having the insight to proclame MCS Month in May. Using that and my medical history, Doctors and a SS Disabilities Judge from Las Vegas who was very well aware of the disease, I finally received my SSD. Since then I am almost home bound becasue of the chemicals and pesticides. This is a very real disease and should be included.

  3. 3
    Barbara Doebele Says:

    Please designate Multiple Chemical Sensitivity/Environmental Illness as a disability.
    I became disabled, acording to a Social Security Judge as of December 1997. I receive Social Security Disability payments based on my Chemical Sensitivities!
    I was an RN and had to quit my job due to the severity of my reactions – near death at the office in one case.
    At present, I cannot go away from home without very careful planning – equal to a severe diabetic, someone who needs oxygen, or a caretaker at all times. If I have a severe reaction and connot get to my medications in time, my companion Must act on my behalf.
    I have not been to a shopping mall in about 8 years. I have not been able to accept invitations or go to social functions, not been to go into a church, not gone to a funeral or wedding nor attended other functions without very careful preparation. I cannot even go to a hospital, medical office, dental office without major accommodations by the doctors and staff.
    I think that any physical condition that prevents a person from leaving home without serious consideration and great preparation would be considered a “disability”.
    In Kansas, a pregnant woman can get a temporary “disabled” parking permit.
    If “pregnancy” is a reason for special accommodation, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity/Environmental Illness should be consideredd a more severe condition than pregnancy!
    Also, my Multiple Chemical Sensitivity prevents me from attending governmental gatherings that address Disabilities. Isn’t that a bit ironic?
    Someone who cannot go to Disbility Hearings is not considered disabled!!!
    Thank you for your attention to this growing problem.
    Barbara Doebele, Olathe KS

  4. 4
    JAMES D. VOITA Says:

    MCS is real and debilitating. Just as those deisabled during chemotherapy, there are laboratory findings of decreased metabolic enzymes to cope with chemicals in the environment. I am a Medical Technologist and know there is solid science behind the diagnosis. Removing MCS from disability is like removing vetarins from coverage. This must not be done.

  5. 5
    debra sawyer Says:

    I know many people and kids who have this problem.
    We need to protect their rights from chemically insensitive people, or people that do not regard chemical use as harmful.

  6. 6
    Janet Kusiak Says:

    please include mcs of which I am a sufferer and it is very real and disabling.

  7. 7
    HeeKyoung Chun Says:

    I urge you to officially recognize Multiple Chemical Sensitivity/ Environmental Illness as a disability requiring accommodation for accessibility.

  8. 8
    Lana May Says:

    I have multiple chemical sensitivities brought about by eye medication from which I developed allergies to carpet glue, print (card stores, etc.), perfumes, pesticides, etc. MCS is not imagined, it has become our legacy from continual use and our immune systems becoming bombarded by toxins.

  9. 9
    Susan Brinchman Says:

    Can you provide a direct link to the actual proposed legislation? It is buried among thousands on the Federal Register site.

    This is most appalling – as a MCS sufferer who became ill from exposure to toxic molds, while working in a sick school building, I am like the teacher above – with proper accommodations I could be working, at least part-time. Millions of workers impacted by toxic exposures, even low-level, but insidious ones, are disabled and not working. With support from the federal government, some of these could remain productive, which is in the best interest of the nation – is it not?
    For information on school mold exposures, go to http://www.schoolmoldhelp.org.
    Thank you for working on pesticides as well – fungicides, classified as pesticides, are often sprayed on mold in schools as a “cheap fix”, sickening the occupants further. This is a completely unregulated use in schools that needs attention, also.

    Susan Brinchman, Director, Center for School Mold Help

  10. 10
    Karen Bedell Says:

    I work with people with disabilities ever day. I also have a brother with a spinal cord injury. Of all of the people that I come into contact with those with CS are those that have the most problems with access issues. This hold true with public buildings, housing and they also are granted the fewest accommodations. This is a grow group of disabled people and need to be recognized as such.

  11. 11
    Ciel Carter Says:

    I have recently lost just about everything, and am now attempting to start my life over again. My husband and family have emotionally, physically and financially abandoned me because of MCS – CS – Chemical Sensitivity. And no matter where I turn, there is no safe place for me to work because of the Chemical Sensitivity issues that I have. And I DO want to work! However, as far as buildings are concerned, the only really safe one I’ve stepped into is the Environmental Health Center of Dallas, TX. Every other place is typically full of cleaning chemicals, perfumes, air fresheners … scented products of all kinds, like soaps, hand sanitizers, and so on.

    I don’t like the feeling of being drugged coming over me with one whiff of any of the above-listed substances. (Or, by getting any of them onto my skin, alternatively.) It takes anywhere between 2-12 hours for that drugged feeling to go away. And I can still smell these toxic substances through the face mask, anyway; so though it might help a little, it certainly doesn’t ward off the sensitivity reactions.

    Someone PLEASE help us! We are the group of disabled who truly are afflicted with the most non-access issues!

  12. 12
    DMac Says:

    What I have personally learned over the last 2 decades is that M.C.S., F.M.S. and C.F.S. are truly overlapping chronic illnesses that are extremely debilitating.

    It seems that C.F.S. has been finally noticed and recognized as a very real medical condition by Governmental Standards under A.D.A. yet F.M.S. and M.C.S. are still questionable. Come on people, lets just accept the fact that we have polluted our world, daily living spaces and places of employment to the point that healthy people are now getting sick.

    You MUST take a more serious look at these illnesses, especially M.C.S. as it is still so new to the medical field, unaccepted & misunderstood in convential treatments.

    We ALL deserve a better place to live in and those of us who have been made ill by over exposure to chemicals or have challenged immune systems deserve the same treatment as a para-palegic.

    We suffer the same pain, if not worse as it is an invisible illness that is constantly challenged by friends, family, employers, etc.


  13. 13
    Canary Alice Says:

    Please include MCS as I suffer from this and it has caused me major disability. Do not forget us again.

  14. 14
    Mary McFarland Says:

    My son becomes ill asthma, severe sinus probs, headaches nausea, etc…whenever our condo association sprays. We have been in touch with the companies and our association even hired an attorney who sent us a letter threatening to sue for “tortuous interference with the buisiness making authoriy of the condo board.” It is taking months of work to get the state to give me informmation as to how to get placed on a do not spray list.
    This is unacceptable!
    Mary Wheeler McFarland RN JD NCSN
    Palm Harbor, Florida

  15. 15
    Mary Wheeler Mcfarland Says:

    Oh and despite the fact that 4 cats in our condo have died, 1 is all with the same wasting process, and despite the fact that my son has been neurologically damaged and is now on multiple meds, despite the fact that we have a child here with pre-B ALL, the condo board refuses to pursue alternative organic measures…. I even found a company in New Port Ritchey who will do the lawn, pond and termite control without the uses of harmful pesticides and herbicides……the response I got was that…”well they can’t do it without some pesticides.”
    Some more pesticides……Makes perfect sense!

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