Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)
William Jiang
35

I would argue that MCS, which my family and I have experienced since a sick house incident two decades ago, cannot possibly occur given the basic theory underlying both the practice of mainstream medicine today, and underlying medical research.

Obviously, the theory is wrong. At least by my experience. But in the hundred years or so since MCS was first described, and despite very strong work both 50 years ago by Theron Randolph (leading to the field of clinical ecology in the 1960s) and more recently by William Rea (Environmental Medicine, EHCD), reality is neither created fundamental theory to explain what’s happening in the body, and neither created an objective measurement capable of distinguishing MCS from what the military would call “malingering”.

Consider also the history in medicine. Allergists were considered quacks until the 1960s or so, and were legitimized partly by theory and repeatable objective measurements, and partly by throwing the clinical ecologists under the bus (that’s how the line between mainstream medicine and “other” was drawn).

Consider also the economic interests: An intake exam for MCS takes hours and a responsible physician orders thousands of dollars of tests to see if there’s anything that *can* be treated by mainstream medicine. Treatments such as those at EHCD can take months, and tens of thousands of dollars, not counting temporary living expenses if one goes to Dallas. No insurer in their right mind wants to cover such expenses, particularly for something that can’t be diagnosed objectively and less than half of patients return to near-normal lives. Oh, and what disability insurer would want to pay out a lifetime of living expenses without an objective measure? What landlord (or employer, or building owner) could achieve “reasonable accommodation”? And why did the chemical industry think it was necessary to fund ESRI (a PR campaign to discredit MCS, distort the scientific literature on the topic, etc) and develop expert witnesses (who consistently succeeded at painting anyone disabled by MCS as mentally ill, based in part on that distorted literature) in the 1990's? And don’t get me started on the national anti-alternative-medicine movement (NCAHF, quackwatch, etc) some part of which went to each of the state medical boards trying to establish the standard that a single instance of diagnosing MCS should be grounds to revoke a physician’s license in that state.

What we need is:

  1. New theory, as radical as germ theory was when Pasteur proposed it, explaining what’s going on in MCS
  2. Experiments proving that theory, cheap enough to run that they can be done without grant money, and ethical enough that responsible institutions and responsible researchers can and do run those experiments. This was the key to acceptance of Pasteur’s theory.
  3. A way that all three of pharmaceutical makers, medical equipment makers, and some branch of mainstream medicine can become obscenely wealthy performing some treatment that actually reverses many cases of MCS, so that there are special interests “for”, not just “against”.
  4. A net gain to the economy from this (less disability, less medical treatment elsewhere, higher productivity from the roughly 1 in 6 people who are impacted by low level MCS).
  5. A safe harbor for current products, manufacturers, landlords, employers as we figure out what the bad actors are (formaldehyde, for example) and how to eliminate them. The asbestos model (panic, remove at ridiculous expense, taint any property where it was used, bankrupt any company that touched it with lawsuits) is not appropriate. For example, the combination of full disclosure of ingredients and a prohibition on saying that a particular ingredient is safe for everyone would be a good safe harbor, and there should be unlimited liability for a company that (say) makes a hair care product with formaldehyde in it, lies about the ingredients, and claims it’s safe for everyone.
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