A review of a two-phase population study of multiple chemical sensitivities

Environ Health Perspect. 2003 Sep;111(12):1490-7. doi: 10.1289/ehp.5940.


In this review we summarize the findings of a two-phase study of the prevalence, symptomatology, and etiology of multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS). We also explore possible triggers, the potential linkage between MCS and other disorders, and the lifestyle alterations produced by MCS. The first phase of the study consisted of a random sampling of 1,582 individuals from the Atlanta, Georgia, metropolitan area to determine the reported prevalence of a hypersensitivity to common chemicals. In this phase, 12.6% of the sample reported a hypersensitivity. Further questioning of individuals with a hypersensitivity indicated that 13.5% (1.8% of the entire sample) reported losing their jobs because of their hypersensitivity. The second phase was a follow-up questioning of the respondents who initially reported hypersensitivity. In this phase, we found that individuals with hypersensitivity experience a variety of symptoms and triggers. A significant percentage (27.5%) reported that their hypersensitivity was initiated by an exposure to pesticides, whereas an equal percentage (27.5%) attributed it to solvents. Only 1.4% had a history of prior emotional problems, but 37.7% developed these problems after the physical symptoms emerged. This suggests that MCS has a physiologic and not a psychologic etiology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / epidemiology*
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / etiology*
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / pathology
  • Pesticides / toxicity*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Solvents / toxicity*


  • Pesticides
  • Solvents