KPU instructor launches podcast about multiple chemical sensitivity
Aaron Goodman created the podcast to warn others about this life-threatening illness that’s predicted to worsen in coming decades
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In a world of unprecedented fragrances and unnatural chemicals, a modern condition called multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) leaves many debilitated with migraines, anaphylactic shock, memory loss, allergy-like symptoms, anxiety, and even death. People with MCS identify as metaphoric “canaries” for their ability to sense danger far earlier than the average person.
The danger in question refers to the harsh, permanent chemicals that permeate everyday products. These carcinogenic chemicals sneak into ingredient lists under umbrella names such as “fragrance” or “parfume,” but their side effects have not been fully studied. Although 32 per cent of the general population are self-diagnosed with MCS, chemical intolerances have gone untreated and negated in medicine.
Aaron Goodman, communications and journalism instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, experienced what is called a “toxic-induced loss of tolerance (TILT) event” in which a sudden exposure to pesticides in Thailand in 2008 caused him to develop severe MCS.
“Over my lifetime, the amount of chemicals I’ve been exposed to has gone to an unmanageable level. My body finally quit and said, ‘No, can’t do it.’ A chemical injury caused that final break. Now, my body reacts to just trace amounts of chemicals,” Goodman says.
Goodman created the Chemical Sensitivity Podcast to teach people how to detect early stages of MCS, how chemicals permanently affect the body, and what others can do to create a more accommodating world.
“We’re talking about millions of people around the world, potentially one of the most prevalent illnesses going forward in the coming decades, and yet there’s such a lack of understanding about the condition,” Goodman says.
Life completely changes for people with MCS like Goodman and Shelley Petit, chairperson of the New Brunswick Coalition for Persons with Disabilities.
Five years ago, Petit worked as an energetic teacher who loved volunteering in humanitarian, sports and science extracurricular activities with her middle school students. However, that lifestyle changed after developing MCS.
“I was a school teacher and I was dropping in anaphylactic shock. I was getting so sick all the time, and my doctors finally put me off work permanently – no one really understood what was going on. I went from making $85,000 a year to making $550 a month on social assistance. I had a plan to commit suicide,” Petit says.
On top of being invalidated for her condition, accused of working intoxicated, and collapsing from anaphylactic shock eight times, Petit died and was resuscitated in an ambulance in 2018. She was diagnosed with MCS and lives in the isolated safety of her own home due to the lack of treatment options. She can’t leave her house without a gas mask.
“I wish I’d known about this stuff earlier on,” Petit says. “If five years before I had recognized and started to make some changes, maybe I could still be working in an accommodative format today, but I can’t, unfortunately.”
“So that’s what I love about what [Goodman] is doing. [The MCS Podcast] is going to help some people catch it early enough that they can make some of the changes in their lives so that they can live really full lives,” Petit says.
Harmful chemicals and fragrance agents are present in everyday products like detergents, cleaning sprays, shampoos, and paint. Goodman’s mission is to teach others that there is a way to live without the exposure to injurious chemicals.
Goodman says it’s important for institutions of every level to design and implement fragrance and hazardous-chemical-free protocols to make shared spaces safer for everyone. KPU has erected the occasional anti-fragrance sign, but little attention has been raised about the severity of the issue.
“If someone tells you that they’re having a reaction to this, try to be as helpful as you can. Try not to put perfumes and hair sprays on…. If it was you or your child, you would want someone to at least make the attempt,” Petit says.
The federal government is aware of the risks but is allowing industries transition time to find chemical alternatives.
“Science shows [permanent chemicals] are really detrimental to human health, animal health, and to the environment. We’re all at risk. It’s not just about people who have been diagnosed or live with the condition — it’s really for everyone,” Goodman says.
People interested can listen to The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast on their website.