L'Association pour la santé environnementale du Québec / Environmental Health Association of Québec

Demand Change for MCS, Take Action Now!

In 2004, the Environmental Health Association of Quebec was created with the goal of protecting the environment and human health through awareness, support, and education on the impacts of environmental exposures on human health.

In 2011, ASEQ-EHAQ sent a petition to the Minister of Health and Social Services of Québec to request that May be declared as the month for recognition and education on MCS, and that the 12th of May be MCS Day in Quebec. The government tabled this, deciding instead to investigate MCS. The INSPQ was mandated by the Minister of Health and Social Services of Quebec, to examine the issue by conducting a review of the scientific literature, and a status report on what is being done in other provinces and countries. This report was intended to create recommendations for collecting data, and potentially create an information campaign for health professionals on this issue.

ASEQ-EHAQ immediately voiced serious written concerns about this literature review considering there was no expertise in Québec on MCS. In response to this, the Ministry of Health and Social services of Québec (MSSS) assured us in written communications that ASEQ-EHAQ and recognized experts from scientific and clinical communities would be consulted throughout this project.

On November 3, 2014, ASEQ-EHAQ met with the INSPQ to discuss the plan for the literature review. The INSPQ assured attendees that there would be adequate and appropriate examination of the literature, and the MSSS of Quebec, through correspondence assured ASEQ-EHAQ that this review would take place with the input of experts, and the consultation of ASEQ-EHAQ. This was extremely important, since the report would subsequently inform policy.

For the next seven years ASEQ-EHAQ kept in contact with the MSSS, and the INSPQ. However, we were met with no further engagement to refine research questions and methods, to identify gaps in scope and approaches, nor to ensure that the report remained evidence based. ASEQ-EHAQ was left patiently waiting for more news on the literature review in order to gain recognition of the health condition of MCS. We also waited for the affordable healthy housing project, which was pending the approval of the MSSS, and for the desperately needed appropriate medical and social services for this ignored, disabled population.

Seven years later on June 29, 2021, the report was released. The original mandate had been changed, which in turn impacted what was studied, and how it was studied. Despite the meeting seven years earlier, the mandate was changed without consulting or even informing ASEQ-EHAQ, their medical and research advisors who are experts in the field, or people with the lived experience of MCS. In addition, information and science regarding MCS that had previously been shared with the INSPQ by ASEQ-EHAQ was omitted from the published report.

In a subsequent meeting to present their report to ASEQ-EHAQ on September 9, 2021, the INSPQ stated that the mandate was changed in order to investigate the root causes of MCS. This intent was undermined when the INSPQ focussed on MCS studies rather than investigating the health effects of exposures known to initiate and trigger MCS. For example, air pollution has well-known impacts on the health of people around the world, as supported by the World Health Organization, the United Nations, and scientific consensus. However, this important aspect was not explicitly considered in the report. This is clearest with occupational exposures. High levels of airborne contaminants result in chronic disease in emergency responders, painters, industrial workers, beauticians, and many others, which may or may not be labelled as ‘MCS’. Such important realms of research and experience with MCS were not sought, examined, considered, or included. A credible report would have come to more nuanced conclusions given the complexity of this illness, and addressed the original mandate to describe how to care for and accommodate people experiencing MCS.

The harm posed by this review is not limited to inadequate science. This report will have concrete impacts on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across Quebec and beyond. There is a high prevalence of MCS in the population according to Statistics Canada’s Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS 2015-2016, 2020). In 2015 close to one million Canadians aged 12 and older (940,500, or 3.1% (of the population)) received a diagnosis of MCS by a health care professional (CCHS, 2015), with over one million diagnosed found in 2016 (1,008,400, or 3.3%) (CCHS, 2016), and similarly in 2020 (1,130,800, or 3.5%), affecting predominantly women (72%) with a significant number (49%) over 55 years of age (CCHS, 2020). The people who experience MCS often face marginalization, stigmatization, and sometimes outright attempts to cause or provoke illness by those who do not believe them.

The misclassification of MCS as a purely psychological health condition not only undermines the experiences of people suffering from a medical condition where initial sensitization can be caused by exposures to commonly used products and subsequently, symptoms are triggered by exposures to unrelated chemicals, but equally undermines the imperative to decrease and implement least-toxic solutions in public spaces. It also undermines the imperative to approve accessibility requests by individuals experiencing MCS. The Canadian Human Rights Commission already recognizes MCS and has declared MCS to be a disability that is protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act. The government of Quebec must act to prevent, accommodate and treat MCS, yet they still have not done so despite the completion of the report.

In order to ensure adequate patient care and accommodation, it is time for the government of Quebec to take into account the voices of experts, doctors and advocates who have been working for accessibility and recognition, as well as the voices of those experiencing MCS. An appropriate summary of the science could help this cause, and could even contribute to improving public health by promoting the use of least toxic products.

We call upon the Minister of Health and Social Services of Québec and the government of Québec to enact the following changes.

Firstly, despite the harm that this report has perpetuated, the report still recognized the imperative to treat and accommodate this health condition. In order to do so properly, the government of Quebec needs to RECOGNIZE Multiple Chemical Sensitivity as a health condition and disability in Québec.

Secondly, the report must be removed from the INSPQ’s website, given the high probability of causing intense harm to people experiencing MCS, and significant flaws in the methods, analysis, reporting and procedures that have been identified by experts and doctors in a document that is attached to this article.

Thirdly, following the removal of the existing report, the report should be REVISED within six months to incorporate the available broad scientific knowledge and consensus on the effects of chemicals on health, as well as take into account the expertise of those who interact with patients and people living with MCS.

Take action now in order to help us get MCS recognized and have the report of the INSPQ on MCS removed and revised click here to send an email to the Minister of Health and Social Services of Québec, and the government of Québec.