Parliament: Interesting Speeches

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: The prevalence of environmental sensitivities is still largely unknown in Australia. ANRES, the Australian National Register of Environmental Sensitivities, has been put together by a small group of committed individuals in a bid to raise awareness of these often invisible conditions. ANRES aims to collect information from individuals in order to provide the necessary background evidence to highlight the need for reform, recognition and assistance. The ANRES register includes conditions such as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, chronic fatigue syndrome/ME fibromyalgia, lyme disease and food intolerances.

Many of these conditions coexist. For example, a person with MCS may also experience CFS and food intolerances. It is important to collect this information to determine the overall impact on health and lifestyle. The right to access health and disability services continues to be a struggle for many in this community. As individuals, people living with disability who need to seek medical attention or assistance with their living must be able to access services that are safe for them to use.

It just does not work for many people to request, for instance, that workers use no scented personal hygiene products. We need to be able to get the message out there that this really does matter and can have a very real impact on people’s wellbeing. Some of the places we need to provide what can be termed chemical safety include hospitals, doctors’ surgeries and allied health providers’ rooms. People with MCS need some assurance they can visit places of treatment in safety and with respect.

The battle for reduction in chemical exposure for people affected by MCS can be likened to the work of the Counter Tobacco movement. The bid to enable people to move freely in the community can similarly be likened to the push for universal accessibility, particularly for people with mobility issues. People need to be able to enter and access services and public spaces without being bombarded by unnecessary chemicals that so pervade our society.

Without the assurance that environments will be safe, those affected by chemical sensitivity can become very isolated in our community, with those who are able to use a computer really relying on it as a lifeline to connect them to the outside world. But we know the importance of face-to-face contact and it is not acceptable that people are essentially prisoners in their own homes due to the proliferation of chemicals in our public health environment.

We know that around 16 per cent of South Australians identify as having some sort of chemical sensitivity with 1 per cent self-reporting as having multiple chemical sensitivity. Yet, without any clear diagnostic or clinical guidelines, there is no way MCS can be fully diagnosed, with medically unexplained symptoms being the typical diagnosis such people are given. I commend the work of ANRES and the ME/CFS Society of South Australia and note the ongoing difficulties faced by many in our community who have conditions such as CFS and MCS.

For those with these sensitivities, theirs can be an isolating world, and we need to address this by at least making sure that our public institutions, particularly those related to health upon whom people should be able to rely to become healthier and safer, are welcoming and safe places for all people.