Review of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: Identifying

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A Scientific Review of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: Identifying Key Research Needs

Report prepared by the

National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) and the Office of Chemical Safety and Environmental Health (OCSEH)
November 2010

ISBN 978-0-9807221-4-7

© Commonwealth of Australia 2010
This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission from the Commonwealth. Requests and inquiries concerning reproduction and rights should be addressed to the Commonwealth Copyright Administration, Attorney General’s Department,  National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600 or posted at

What this review is about

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) is a term used to describe a condition presenting as a complex array of symptoms linked to low level exposure to chemicals. There is uncertainty about the event(s) and the underlying biological mechanisms that lead to symptoms. This uncertainty has hampered the development of a clinical basis for the diagnosis and treatment of individuals with MCS.

Those with MCS often face situations where their symptoms may be poorly understood or mis-diagnosed, and may be provided with health care that is less than optimal. Difficulties with the diagnosis of MCS are accompanied by a lack of consensus for its treatment other than avoidance of agents that may trigger symptoms.
Significant gaps in understanding MCS, together with community concerns over the presence of chemicals in the environment have led the Australian Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA), through the Office of Chemical Safety and Environmental Health (OCSEH) and the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS), to prepare this scientific review of MCS.
Scope of the review

The aim of this review is to examine current scientific research on MCS and to identify priority areas for further study to inform and engage the clinical and scientific research community.

The report therefore examines evidence about:

  • Identifying MCS, symptoms and triggers;

  • Mode(s) of action for chemical interactions within MCS;

  • Approaches to clinical diagnosis and treatment of MCS.

The report also highlights research efforts and further activities that would enhance diagnosis, treatment and better clinical management practices of MCS in Australia.

Conduct of the review

The review has two key areas of focus. Firstly, it reviews scientific information to identify biologically plausible hypotheses to explain the underlying mechanisms of MCS. The elucidation of the biological basis for MCS will undoubtedly provide direction for clinical diagnosis and improve treatments options for MCS. If the underlying biological mechanism(s) can be determined for MCS, there is potential to not only better treat symptoms but to effect a significant alleviation of the condition.

Secondly, to better support the diagnosis and management of individuals with MCS, the review identifies current diagnosis and treatment practices and gaps in clinical research and medical education in Australia. The review findings point to specific priorities for further scientific and clinical research on MCS.

1Executive SummarY 8

1.1Overview 8

1.2Findings 9

Research into biological mechanisms underpinning MCS 9

Clinical research needs 9

2understanding Multiple chemiCal Sensitivity 11

2.1What is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity? 11

2.2What are the symptoms of MCS? 12

2.3What chemicals trigger the symptoms of mcs? 13

2.4Can mcs be clincally defined? 16

2.5does MCS have a disease classification? 18

2.6Do individuals with MCS share common characteristics? 19

2.7Is MCS related to other syndromes or disorders? 22

3Mechanisms of Multiple chemical sensitivity 24

3.1Overview of Possible MCS Mode (s) of Action 25

Immunological dysregulation 25

Respiratory disorder/neurogenic inflammation 27

Limbic kindling/neural sensitisation 31

NMDA receptor activity and elevated nitric oxide and peroxynitrite 35

Toxicant-induced loss of tolerance (TILT) 37

Altered xenobiotic metabolism 38

Behavioural conditioning 41

Psychological/psychiatric factors 44

Other proposed mechanisms 49

3.2Further research for elucidating mode(s) of action 49

Chemical initiators/triggers and biological gradients 50

Challenge studies for determining causation 51

Investigations for key modes of action 54

4diagnosis, treatment and Management of Multiple chemical sensitivity 60

4.1diagnosis and prevalence of mcs 60

Studies on the prevalence of MCS in Australia 60

Studies on the prevalence of MCS in other countries 61

4.2mcs case definition and prevalence data 63

4.3Treatment facilities 64

4.4Treatment/management strategies 65

4.5Clinical Approaches to MCS in Australia 67

4.6clinical research needs 68

Longitudinal Study 69

Education/Training 69

5Appendix 1 - a survey of australian clinicians approaches to multiple chemical sensitivity 71

5.1The survey process 71

Stakeholder contact 71

Questionnaire 73

Interviews 73

Workshop 74

5.2Problems encountered 75

5.3The common ground 76

Initial Presentation 77

Diagnosis 77

Prognosis and Treatment 77

Education 78

5.4Implications for treatment/management 78

Common MCS treatments 78

Recognising and responding to MCS individuals 78

Principles for the management of MCS 79

5.5Suggestions for clinical research 79

6appendix 2 - Views of national governments and Professional MEDICAL Organisations 81

6.1US professional organisations 81

American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) 81

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) 81

American College of Physicians (ACP) 81

American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) 82

American Medical Association (AMA) 82

Californian Medical Association (CMA) 82

Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics (AOEC) 83

National Academy of Sciences – National Research Council (NRC) 83

Other Organisations 83

6.2US Government 83

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) 84

Department of Defence (DOD) 84

Department of Veterans Affairs 84

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Institute of Health 84

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 85

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 85

6.3Canadian Government 86

6.4German Government 86

6.5United Kingdom professional organisations 86

Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Pathologists 86

British Society for Allergy, Environmental and Nutritional Medicine (BSAENM) 86

Institute of Occupational Medicine, Edinburgh 87

6.6New Zealand Government 87

6.7Danish government 88

6.8International program on chemical safety (WHO/ILO/UNEP) 88

AAAAI American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

AAEM American Academy of Environmental Medicine

ACOEM American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

ACP American College of Physicians

ACTA Australian Chemical Trauma Alliance Inc.

AESSRA Allergy and Environmental Sensitivity Support and Research Association Inc

AIHW Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

AIRA Allergies and Intolerant Reactions Association

AMA American Medical Association

AOEC Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics

ASCEPT Australian Society of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Toxicology

ASCIA Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy

ASEHA Allergy, Sensitivity and Environmental Health Association Qld Inc

ATSDR Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Atlanta, Georgia

BSAENM British Society for Allergy and Environmental Medicine

CFMCS SG Circle of Friends MCS Support Group WA

CFS Chronic fatigue syndrome

CMA Californian Medical Association

CNS Central nervous system

CTMCS Community Taskforce on Multiple Chemical Sensitivities- WA

DBPC Double-blind placebo controlled

DOD Department of Defence, USA

DoHA Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing

EPA U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

FM Fibromyalgia

GRCMCS and CI Global Recognition Campaign for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Chemical Injury

IEI Idiopathic environmental intolerance

ILO International Labour Organisation

IPCS International Programme on Chemical Safety

MCS Australia Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Australia

MCS Multiple chemical sensitivity

ME/CFS Myalgic encephalopathy/Chronic fatigue syndrome.

NCEH National Centre for Environmental Health, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

NICNAS National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme

NIEHS National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences

NIOSH National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Cincinnati, Ohio

NRC National Research Council

NTN National Toxics Network

OCSEH Office of Chemical Safety and Environmental Health

OSHA Occupational Safety and Health Administration

RACP Royal Australasian College of Physicians

RPAH Royal Prince Alfred Hospital

SATFMCS South Australian Task Force on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

SBS Sick building syndrome

SHR Sensory hyperreactivity

TILT Toxicant-induced loss of tolerance

TRP Transient receptor potential

UNEP United Nations Environmental Programme

VOC Volatile organic compound

WHO World Health Organization

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