Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) is a medical term in common use, and is described as a chronic condition with symptoms, occurring in multiple organ systems, that recur in response to low levels of exposure to a range of chemicals, and improve or resolve when these chemicals are removed.

Characteristic symptoms can include headaches, burning of eyes, nose or throat, concentration or memory lapses, nausea, muscle pain, dizziness, breathing problems and fatigue. The overlap between MCS symptoms and other illnesses such as Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome also presents difficulties for diagnosis.

The levels of MCS in the community make it an increasingly important public health issue. It is a frequent topic of concern on our Bridges & Pathways community helpline, particularly about matters relating to access to health and community services, as well as problems experienced with chemicals affecting people within their home environment.

Surveys conducted by the Department of Health in SA in 2002 and 2004 suggest that 0.9 percent of the population may have MCS, while an estimated 16.4 percent may experience some chemical sensitivity. Interstate and overseas research has shown that up to 6 percent of the population may have MCS, with between 10-25 percent experiencing sensitivity to chemicals.

Research supports both the view that chemicals can cause or trigger MCS symptoms, and the argument that there is no objective evidence to establish a link to any specific chemical or group of chemicals as the cause of MCS. At this point in time, there is no evidence to conclusively support any one theory. However, research that associates a great many chemicals with initiating or eliciting MCS symptoms cannot be ignored.

In 2005, South Australia conducted a consultation resulting in a Social Inclusion Report on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, with 11 recommendations, which was tabled in Parliament. Since that time, a Ministerial Reference Group has been working toward improving awareness and developing better practices.

These important documents include:

  • Report on Care-Planning Priorities, Self-Management Issues and Service Needs, for consumers with Chronic Fatigue Syndromes: a pilot study conducted in the Southern and Hills districts of Adelaide. June-December 2002 – prepared by Bridges & Pathways Institute Inc. (Download PDF 483kB)
  • The MCS Hospital Guidelines (Download PDF 201kB)
  • The Garden Chemicals Flyer (Download PDF 958kB)
  • The SA survey on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (Download PDF 168kB)
  • The MCS Parliamentary Inquiry Report (Download PDF 5MB)