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

Your Voice Matters

Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide

Muriel Létourneau

My name is Muriel Létourneau, and I suffer from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). I get symptoms from many products, and particularly perfumed products. My symptoms appeared very gradually over the years. I now realize that even in the 2000’s, I didn’t feel very well in crowds, and I found the fragrances or perfumes around me, very strong. I also avoided the cinema because of the fragrances and the noise. I have always been sensitive to noise and light. During that time, I didn’t think I was sick: I just thought that I was intolerant. In fact, I was called ‘intolerant’, so I thought for a long time that my condition was due to my difficulty in ‘tolerating’ people and things… I had become increasingly intolerant to many diverse products, but I blamed this lack of tolerance on myself, since there was/is no medical expertise on this condition to advise me. Since I also have Lupus, there was a lot of frustration and pain at that time since Lupus imposed many limitations on my life.

In 2007, since there was a lack of employees in his business, I helped my husband to install automatic watering systems on lawns. These lawns were treated with herbicides and even though I was mildly sensitive at that time, this particular exposure to pesticides, is what sensitized me fully to the medical condition of MCS. In 2009, after a divorce that completely destroyed me, I went to work in a chiropractor’s office. It was there that my health deteriorated very quickly. The waiting room was always crowded with highly scented people. It was also the beginning of the time when highly scented laundry products, especially ‘Snuggle’ was introduced into the market. Exposures to these products resulted in symptoms which included a slow but steady deterioration of my mental state. Upon exposure, I became aggressive to the point where I was often ashamed of my behaviour. I had many medical tests, including MRIs, but the doctors found nothing. One day I googled ‘fragrance allergy’ and came across the website of ASEQ-EHAQ. That is when I realised what I was suffering from, and when I tried to explain to people what the fragrances, they commonly used were doing to me, nobody believed me. My boss didn’t help me either. I was eventually fired and I have to say I understand that action, because I could not control myself anymore. I was exposed and assaulted by perfumed products constantly, which affected my mental state, and I was angry almost all the time. My brain didn’t work as before: I had no concentration and I lost my balance. In short, I was a human wreck. I was unemployed, without money, and I got a job as a night watchman in a residence for young people in difficulty. As my boss and friend allowed me to change all the cleaning products, I thought I was safe from odours but that was not the case. There was an educator who washed her clothes in a product that was heavily perfumed. She left that odour everywhere she sat and it got impregnated into the material of the chair, to the point that I no longer had a chair to sit on, as her perfumed products were transposed onto my clothes. After a while I had a confrontation with her which resulted in my boss firing me. I sold my house in order to take care of my mother who was in a home for older people. There again I became even sicker because the perfumes used in this place were so strong and pervasive. I left and moved into a mobile home, where I presently live, since this was all I could afford, but again, the laundry smells are so intense from the neighbours, that I cannot enjoy my yard or open my windows. Also, my immediate neighbour uses a lot of air fresheners (plug-ins) in the house and when she opens her windows which face my house, it is impossible for me to go outside. She knows this, but she continues using these products. I don’t keep any money on me anymore because it smells like laundry products and when I point that out, I get laughed at. But it’s the reality I live with. All the chemicals used in these products, permeate everything. When I have appointments with the dentist or the doctor, there are so many exposures at these places, such as perfumes, cleaning and laundry products, etc., that I know that I will have to wait several hours or even days before I feel well again. I must admit it is so painful to endure this, and there is no help to make this situation better. I also often regret that I survived cancer. Fortunately, I discovered ASEQ-EHAQ, who helped me understand and feel less alone. I am now without friends, since I cannot let anyone into my house, because I get ill from fragrances, even light ones… I don’t dare think about the future and what I will be doing in a few years. I’m 66 now. Where will I go? Is anybody listening?

I can only hope that through policies, awareness and education, that this perfume culture will eventually change to accommodate people like me, but I’m afraid I won’t see it in my lifetime.