Monday, August 8, 2011

When Perfume Becomes Poison: Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) And LDS Church Meetings

A post on Times & Seasons entitled "Scent of a Mormon" triggered my interest in this issue. Jonathan Green noted that the Modern Language Association asks attendees at their conferences to refrain from using perfume, cologne, and other scented products in order to help ensure the comfort of all in attendance. Green wonders if this might also be a problem at various meetings held by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Apparently it is, according to this comment posted by Bill:

Bill 8/8/2011 at 2:15 pm:
My wife will never be able to attend Relief Society because of perfume, hairspray, etc. She barely tolerates being in a chapel or cultural hall. On Sunday we sit in the front row because there is no one in front of us and the air tends to flow from the front of the chapel to the back. However, if someone sits behind us with a liberal dose of perfume or aftershave she will violently start coughing. Once the coughing episode starts it is very difficult to stop and can be incapacitating. Many sisters will say: “I only use a small amount.” However, a large number of people using a small amount creates a large problem in small rooms like the Relief Society room. I have known other people worse than my wife and they can not stay in the chapel even if they sit in the empty choir seats.

The post does reveal an educational deficiency which I intend to address. There is a specific name for this problem. It's called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), and you can read a good overview of it HERE. In broad terms, it refers to an unusually severe sensitivity or allergy-like reaction to many different kinds of pollutants including solvents, VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), perfumes, petrol, diesel, smoke, and chemicals in general, and can often encompass problems with regard to pollen, house dust mites, and pet fur & dander. The Chemical Sensitivity Foundation also provides useful information.

The real problems with MCS are that, although the underlying mechanisms are relatively well-understood and are gaining public acceptance, there is no known specific cause, and the variable nature of MCS from one person to the next hinders effective treatment with conventional medicine & practices. Consequently, avoidance of the suspected substances offers the only certain relief.

This brings up the question of whether or not those in the LDS chain of command should ban the use of substances such as perfume at Church meetings. Understandably, some might wonder if it is fair to ask 200 people to accommodate one person; they'll question whether or not that one person is being selfish. To resolve this question, let's turn to Jesus Christ for an answer. In Luke 15:4, Jesus states "What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?" This implies that the Lord Himself believes that at times, the concerns of one might supersede the conflicting concerns of the many.

This does not necessarily mean that Jesus would advocate banning the wearing of perfume at Church meetings. But what it does mean is that, if a ward member discloses a problem with those who wear perfume, that person should be taken seriously, and not be dismissed as a "crank". Depending upon how often the person attends church, a ban may...or may not...be necessary. Perhaps all that might be necessary is to seat the member closer to an area of greater ventilation.

In any event, a Church-wide or even a stake-wide solution to this problem not only would NOT be necessary, but might be excessively intrusive. This should be left in the hands of individual bishops or branch presidents. In the case of someone who cannot attend services because of MCS but who stills wants to participate, Priesthood holders have the authority to take the Sacrament to them in their homes, just as they do for other invalids or shut-ins.

The bottom line: Multiple Chemical Sensitivity does exist, and we need to be aware of it.

2 comments:

Steph said...

I'm chemically sensitive and unable to even walk in the door of my ward building. The fabrics and burlap on the walls absorb the chemicals from the fragrances and even the empty building is a problem for me.

I visited Salt Lake and was told about a fragrance free building. I attended the meetings in that building. It wasn't perfect and there still were some who wore perfume (people honestly don't understand MCS) but I could tolerate the environment. It's the first time I was able to attend Relief Society in several years.

My current ward and stake has accommodated me. I'm able to hear Sacrament Meeting and Sunday School. When there are outdoor activities, in the advertisements they tell people not to wear fragrances (including lotions, etc.)

I have a calling. My visiting teachers and home teachers understand my sensitivities. I visit teach people whose homes are not a problem for me. I am able to take the sacrament.

I often feel like the one out of the ninety-and-nine that was searched for and found. It has made all the difference in the world for me.

My current ward building is an old one and by design I know I'll never be able to enter into it again. But I am definitely part of my ward because of the efforts of others.

MCS Gal

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