Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)


Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)

Tips for churches

a woman in a mask worships with her hands raised
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS, also known as Environmental Illness) is a condition in which persons are unable to adapt to synthetic chemicals pervading our environment, including church buildings.

Below are suggestions for caring responses for those living with MCS. It can be a good idea to ask the person with MCS what specific changes will be most helpful. Download as PDF. More information and stories about MCS.

Individual Actions for Caring for those with MCS:

  • Avoid using perfume, cologne, breath mints, cough drops, gum, and scented personal care products.
  • Don't apply lipstick, hand lotion, or perfume in a public place, including the sanctuary or classroom. (If you must wear these products, apply them before going to a meeting.)
  • Don't use hand wet wipes in sanctuary or classroom. Wash hands and face in the restroom instead.
  • Avoid using aerosol spray products at any time.
  • Don't use perfume or other products with strong odors to illustrate a sermon or Sunday school lesson.
  • Avoid snuffing out candles during a service. Wait until the sensitive people have a chance to leave.
To think about: When asked for “practical tips,” one person with MCS said, “I'm not sure any would be considered practical tips. They all seem impractical to people who can't believe how little it takes to set us off.” Yet expressions of love often require us to go above and beyond the merely practical.

For the church community as a whole

  • Accept the accommodations persons with MCS must make in order to come to church:
    • Do not be offended if a person with MCS can't hug or get too close. Warn a person with MCS if they want to hug you and you are wearing fragrance.
    • Don't be surprised if a person with MCS can't come to church, can't stay for the whole service, or must come to church wearing a mask.
  • Keep in contact with persons who can't attend church. Be aware, however, that some are so sensitive that even visits, phone calls, and emails are difficult.
  • When you visit, be sure to be scent-free by taking a shower using unscented soaps, and refraining from using any chemicals (perfume, cologne, hair spray, hand lotion, fingernail polish, etc.). Even if you put on scented products hours before, they could still be too much for a person with MCS. If weather permits, meet the individual outdoors rather than entering their house.
  • Always serve water (in addition to other beverages) at social functions. Chemicals in food coloring can be toxic to people with MCS.
  • Encourage insurance companies to work with MCS patients and doctors.
  • Be sensitive to hardships on the whole family due to extra expenses of MCS treatment. For example, volunteer to take the rest of the family on an all expense paid outing.
  • Make your church building fully accessible by raising awareness of toxic and scented chemicals and establishing a fragrance reduction policy.

For persons in charge of church maintenance:

  • When renovating or building, consider using less toxic materials.
  • Avoid new paint and solvent-based stains and transparent finishes.
  • Use least toxic, natural, and unscented cleaning, laundry, and sanitizing products.
  • Use electric utilities or radiant heat.
  • Advise the congregation in advance about planned maintenance projects. Then, carry out those projects so as to avoid or eliminate quickly the smells of paint, finishes, new carpets, and other chemicals.
  • Eliminate the use of air "freshener" sprays, incense, and fragrance-emitting devices. At least one restroom (perhaps the family accessible restroom) should have no air fresheners of any kind.
  • Use least toxic, natural, and unscented cleaning and sanitizing products. Do cleaning early in the week so rooms have time to air out.
  • Ventilate buildings with clean fresh air and/or use portable room air filters.
  • Avoid pesticides. Use least toxic integrated pest management. If you need to use pesticides, once again advise the congregation in advance and persons known to have MCS in particular.
  • Declare a scent free zone in a room with a window into the sanctuary and a door directly to the outside (but not right into the parking lot). No one who sits in that section would wear fragrances or use scented detergents in hair or clothes. Advertise to the community that this is available!
    • If a separate room isn't possible, try making a corner of the sanctuary scent free.
    • Provide alternative seating for those sensitive to pew cushions and metal chairs.

For persons with MCS

  • Join a support group. It helps to know others experiencing the same strange symptoms.
  • Get a face mask or respirator and don't be afraid to wear it in public. Wash your hands before taking off the mask, especially if you shake hands with others.
  • Arrive at church at a different time than others. Crossing a busy parking lot can make a person with MCS too sick to function before even getting to the building.
  • Change clothes and/or take a shower right after church. Scents which you are not aware of can be transferred to your clothes, hair, and skin.
  • Make your home a scent and chemical free sanctuary. Anyone who enters the home at any time must respect this.
  • Assist doctors with an assertive but friendly spirit in getting information about MCS. Many are uninformed about this illness and its symptoms.
  • Avoid gasoline fumes and vehicle exhaust.
  • Avoid newly built or remodeled buildings, including new carpets.
  • Avoid solvent, dry-cleaning, and tar fumes.
  • Avoid tobacco smoke.

Compiled by Paul D. Leichty
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Pat Becker, Roberta Krehbiel, and Mariann Martin for these tips.
Additional Source: Multiple Chemical Sensitivities Task Force of New Mexico
Published: 2007; Updated: 2009, 2015

Resources from others:
Letter to church elders explaining the seriousness of chemical sensitivities and advocating for a member with MCS

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