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Speech by the Hon Tammy Franks on MCS

Saturday 18 June 2011

The following speech on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity was given in the South Australian Legislative Council last week by the Hon Tammy Franks, MLC, SA Greens:


The Hon. Tammy Franks
The Hon. Tammy Franks

Legislative Council - Wednesday, 8 June 2011, Page 3051

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:42): On 23 May I spoke to a small crowd of South Australians afflicted by a cruel and debilitating condition. Little known, and seldom recognised for what it is, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) has been estimated to impact on up to 2 per cent of the South Australian population to some degree. The rally I addressed was small in number but, for those who attended, their families, friends and carers, the impacts are far-reaching. The rally was asking for the development of comprehensive disability access guidelines for public health services, in particular requiring the immediate implementation of controls on the use of perfume and aftershave in public health care services.

As many members here will know, the back story of this dates to 2005 when the Social Development Committee tabled its report into MCS. National and international data indicate that around 2 per cent of industrialised populations have been too disabled by MCS to continue working, with between 6 and 16 per cent showing some signs of the illness. In South Australia around 1 per cent of people report being medically diagnosed with MCS, while nearly 16 per cent report unusual sensitivities to common chemicals. Many people in this large group are thought to have symptoms more consistent with MCS, and the illness affects women at a rate of around three times more than men.

However, since 2005 little has changed for people living with MCS in South Australia. There is no comprehensive medical or public information and education strategy for MCS, medical and social research remain absent and there is no national position statement on MCS. Chemical products associated with MCS lack even the basic warnings, and chemical regulators continue to ignore MCS for the purposes of risk assessment. Sufferers get no assistance in purchasing and maintaining expensive disability aids like air and water filters and protective face masks.

Community groups supporting people with MCS receive no state or federal assistance and, most grievously, people with MCS continue to be denied safe access to essential healthcare services. Detailed MCS hospital protocols for South Australia do in fact exist, but these South Australian guidelines only apply to the acute hospital inpatient setting. Meanwhile, outpatient and community-based healthcare services are entirely without MCS disability access strategies or guidance.

This is more than just an issue of detached science, it is a fundamental human rights matter. The health, safety and, most importantly, disability access needs of those affected must be given consideration while science moves ever so slowly to better understanding this condition. Last May was International MCS Awareness Month. The rally I attended called particularly for the immediate introduction of controls on the use of perfume and aftershave in the public healthcare setting, consistent with similar policies developed across the United States of America and Canada.

Personal fragrances form a major barrier to safe access to healthcare services for people affected by MCS. Evidence suggests that organic solvents and petrochemicals contained in personal fragrances may in fact be a possible cause. It is clear that a broad disability access strategy is required. Sufferers are calling for South Australia to implement a strategy for the control of personal fragrances in the public healthcare setting, not just in the acute hospital inpatient setting, and to enforce the protocol we have in that particular setting.

This strategy would require staff not to use perfume or aftershave prior to attending, or while present in, their workplace. The use of personal deodorants and antiperspirants would be acceptable, but low scent and fragrance-free alternatives would be encouraged. It is a small thing to ask when it has such a large impact on this group of sufferers. I look forward to working with others in this council. I know that this has been a matter of concern in the past for many in this place. I look forward to working with the Hon. Dennis Hood on this issue. We will be bringing this matter back before the Legislative Council in the near future.

We know that controls on these personal fragrances would provide safe access to healthcare services for people affected with MCS. They would send a positive signal that government and healthcare services are taking this seriously, they would ensure that healthcare services were in fact responding positively to the needs and disability rights of those affected by the illness, and they would improve the indoor air quality in public health services overall. As I say, I look forward to working with others and we will be bringing a motion before this place soon.



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