Make all health care facilities and services “fragrance free.”

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One in three Americans are made ill by exposures to scented products  of any kind and one in four is sickened by exposures to synthetic chemicals (Steinemann, 2018).  Many of these individuals, including me, are not able to obtain access to adequate healthcare because of severe sensitivities and the fact that healthcare facilities and staff are very strongly scented with personal and cleaning products.  

Many staff are seriously affected also.  Some have to leave their chosen profession because of exposures to chemicals and fragrances.   Nurses are the highest risk group in America for developing this rapidly growing disability.  

Fragrance and chemically sensitive people now represent an underserved population that is invisible to most people. They suffer job loss, social isolation, stigma, dismissive doctors and many other losses.  

Chemical exposures (including to those found in scented products) have been linked to many chronic health conditions including cancer, asthma, autoimmune illnesses, dementia and other cognitive issues, lung disorders, endocrine gland disorders, autism and many others.  No government agency regulates the vast majority of ingredients in scented products.  

Currently, healthcare facilities are not required to establish effective policies requiring their staff to be scent free, to replace all scented products with unscented ones, or to establish voluntary patient policies and education about the health risks of chemicals in scented products.  

 I care about this issue not only because it affects me on a chronic basis but because it affected my husband who suffered for nine years from cancer of the immune system and was denied proper care because he was chemically sensitive.  He was repeatedly made more ill because of staff who were wearing scented products, hospital beds with scented linens, scented hand sanitizers throughout the building, etc. Ultimately, he died not due to his cancer but because he was denied hospice care and medically urgent hospital care by staff who did not want to follow the weak, unenforceable fragrance policies in place.  He was 55 years old.

No one should be denied health care or made sicker trying to obtain care from a healthcare facility because the person has the disability of fragrance or chemical sensitivity. The government needs to take action because individual healthcare providers will not do so until they are forced to.  They view this as a matter of personal choice much like the smoking issue was in an earlier age.  Many want to do the right thing but don’t have a government agency backing them up.

Please ask the secretary of HHS to provide leadership on addressing this issue and require all health care facilities and service providers to be scent free.