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Wednesday, 15 March, 2000, 02:31 GMT
Household chemicals health warning
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By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Chemicals in household products can expose vulnerable people to symptoms including allergies and fatigue, doctors have warned.

Dr Keith Eaton and Dr Honor Anthony, are the authors of a report, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Recognition and Management. It is published by the British Society for Allergy, Environmental and Nutritional Medicine.

The report urges the government to tighten the regulation of chemical use, including stricter controls on the authorisation of new chemicals, and the removal of persistent chemicals from food.

More protection

Dr Eaton said: "Our report confirms the problems caused to some individuals by exposure to chemicals. These patients need better diagnosis and treatment.

"They also need to be protected by the government from chemicals which contaminate our food and environment."

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Research published by the European Chemicals Bureau shows that only 14% of the most heavily used chemicals have a full set of basic safety data publicly available.

Dr Michael Warhurst, chemicals campaigner at Friends of the Earth (FoE), said: "We are all exposed to too many poorly understood chemicals.

"It is time the government forced industry to use only those chemicals that they have shown to be safe."

FoE is urging the adoption of policies which it says would ensure a safe and precautionary regulatory system for chemicals:
  • A full right to know what chemicals are present in products
  • A deadline for all chemicals on the market to have had their safety independently assessed
  • The phasing out of persistent or bio-accumulative chemicals
  • A requirement to replace less safe chemicals with safer ones
  • A commitment to stop all releases to the environment of hazardous substances by 2020.
Dr Warhurst told BBC News Online: "The message of this report is that there is a group of people who are unusually chemically sensitive.

"I know of cases where the trigger was formaldehyde, or pesticides, or sick building syndrome.

"And once you have this problem of multiple chemical sensitivity, you can have huge problems with chemicals in everyday products."

'I lose consciousness'

One sufferer from multiple chemical sensitivity, who did not wish to be identified, spoke to BBC News Online.

She said: " I am very sensitive to domestic gas, detergents, perfumes and chemical cleaners.

"I was diagnosed three years ago. When I have a severe chemical exposure, I lose consciousness for a couple of hours.

"I can't go somewhere where there's a gas cooker on, though I can cope with a gas boiler so long as it's in a separate room, with the door shut.

"I eat organic food wherever possible, and drink only bottled water, or tap water that's been boiled.

"I am having treatment - injections every three months of chemicals, with the dose slowly increasing in the hope that in time I will become tolerant.

"I'm better since I began eating organic food, so I'm hopeful about the injections. But I'm not certain they'll work."

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See also:

02 Nov 99 | Health
'Label perfumes that irritate'
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10 Sep 99 | Health
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06 Oct 99 | Medical notes
Food additives factfile
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