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Fragrance Free Proposal For GSA Buildings‏

November 29, 2010

A series of federal and university-based studies have found that up to one-third of the 
U. S. population may react to low level chemical exposures with as high as 6% of the population chronically ill and disabled. Two national surveys, conducted in 2002-2003 and 2005-2006 found that 11.1% and 11.6%  of Americans reported a hypersensitivity to common chemical products such as perfume, fresh paint, pesticides, and other petrochemical-based products, and 2.5% and 3.9%  reported that they had been medically diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivities (Journal of Environmental Health, 2009).  

Many Americans are encountering significant problems in the employment arena and in educational settings as well as in accessing public and commercial buildings due to reactions to chemical and environmental exposures. Those impacted by fragrances and fragranced products include people with asthma, allergies, chemical sensitivities, headaches and migraines, seizures, breathing and lung disorders, and others with chronic conditions. Many employees lose their job or their health each year because they cannot tolerate the fragrance and fragranced products used by co-workers or the fragranced air fresheners, deodorizers, potpourri, and other scented cleaning and maintenance products used in public and commercial buildings. The EEOC is certainly aware of these issues. The Commission included “cleaning products” and “perfume” as examples of exposures that might substantially limit respiratory function and breathing in an asthmatic in the Regulations to Implement the Equal Employment Provisions of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. In the educational setting, many students find that they cannot tolerate fragrances including perfume and cologne used by other students or fragranced cleaning products used in maintenance of educational institutions. In schools and the workplace the levels of harassment and discrimination encountered by those affected by these exposures is overwhelming for affected individuals. 

Key Agency of Implementation: U.S. GSA

Proposed Strategy

The U. S. General Services Administration, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services and the U. S. Access Board, should establish and promulgate Best Practices Guidelines focused on restricting the use of Fragrances and Fragranced Cleaning and Maintenance Products in all GSA owned and operated buildings, consistent with and drawn from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Indoor Environmental Quality Policy” dated June 2009, and other government resources listed below.

Description of Strategy

The U. S. Access Board has examined the issue of fragrances and fragranced products and the more comprehensive topic of Indoor Environmental Quality.  In 1999 the agency held a training session for its board and employees on fragrance issues. The Access Board subsequently adopted a fragrance-free policy for public meetings: Click Here >> 

The Access Board also funded the “Indoor Environmental Quality Project Report” issued in 2006 posted here, which focuses on making public and commercial buildings healthier for all and more accessible for people with chemical and electrical sensitivities. The IEQ report identifies scented products including perfume, cologne, scented cleaners and other scented products as  “one of the major access barriers” for people with asthma and chemical sensitivities. It notes that “exposure to fragrances can trigger asthma attacks and migraine headaches, and aggravate sinus conditions. In those who are chemically sensitive, fragrance exposures can also cause irregular heartbeat, memory loss, confusion, fatigue and neurological, vascular, and other problems. In addition, some fragrance chemicals are implicated in causing cancer and/or damaging the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Fragrance chemicals can enter the body via inhalation, skin absorption, and nasal passageways.”

In March 2009, the U. S. Census Board issued a Fragrance Free Policy and Implementing language in an effort to protect employees and accommodate disabled workers.

In June 2009, the CDC issued an “Indoor Environmental Quality Policy” including “Indoor Environmental Quality Guidelines” to help ensure the health and safety of all employees who might be affected by indoor air contaminants. It details policies that preserve and protect the health of workers from many potentially toxic workplace exposures such as pesticides, tobacco smoke, and remodeling activities.  

The CDC “Indoor Environmental Quality Guidelines” specifically prohibit scented or fragranced products at all times in all interior space owned, rented, or leased by CDC.  The guidelines prohibit incense, candles, fragrance-emitting devices, potpourri, spray air fresheners, urinal and toilet blocks, and other fragranced deodorizer/re-odorizer products as follows: 

Non-Permissible Products

Scented or fragranced products are prohibited at all times in all interior space owned, rented, or leased by CDC. This includes the use of:

  • Incense, candles, or reed diffusers
  • Fragrance-emitting devices of any kind
  • Wall-mounted devices, similar to fragrance-emitting devices, that operate automatically or by pushing a button to dispense deodorizers or disinfectants
  • Potpourri
  • Plug-in or spray air fresheners
  • Urinal or toilet blocks
  • Other fragranced deodorizer/re-odorizer products
  • Personal care products (e.g. colognes, perfumes, essential oils, scented skin and hair products) should not be applied at or near actual workstations, restrooms, or anywhere in CDC owned or leased buildings.

Guideline Resources

Uniform guidelines for the entire federal government should be established, using the previous work of the U.S. Access Board, U.S. Census Bureau, and CDC, as outlined in the following government resources:

Rationale — Why We Need this Strategy

These best practices policies would prevent injury and future disability for susceptible populations and improve the health and well-being of all building occupants. These guidelines further address accommodations necessary for people affected by indoor pollutants including those with chemical sensitivities consistent with the recommendations of the U. S. Access Board’s “Indoor Environmental Quality Project Report.” Healthy indoor environments are critical to a healthy and productive workforce and to a successful educational experience.

The CDC guidelines encourage employees “to be as fragrance-free as possible when they arrive in the workplace. Fragrance is not appropriate for a professional work environment, and the use of some products with fragrance may be detrimental to the health of workers with chemical sensitivities, allergies, asthma, and chronic headaches/migraines.”

Submitted by

Mary Lamielle, Executive Director
National Center for Environmental Health Strategies, Inc.
1100 Rural Avenue
Voorhees, New Jersey 08043

2 Comments leave one →
  1. scentinjured permalink
    January 20, 2011 5:06 pm

    In my US Government building, I was exposed to printer chemicals from copy machines located near an AC intake that was clogged and became allergic the first time to a coworker cologne. I believe the chemicals mixed. Then I was moved to a newly constructed area and was exposed to offgas of new building materials and particle board furniture and new partitions. Then more painting and laying of tile took place in my closed work area as I worked. Work areas were not closed offfrom the glue and painting. Then coworkers used room deodorizers, perfume, body lotions all around me. I became disabled and could no longer enter the office. I was terminated from employment. I filed an EEO complaint because coworkers used these scented products even though they knew I was becoming more and more ill. The investigation is still ongoing. It is a very long process for a Government worker to file an EEO complaint. Two cases of successful lawsuits in Federal District Court, Erin Weber and Susan McBride have demonstrated that coworkers will refuse to stop using scented products even though they know they are injuring a coworker. The court found the employers could not prove that a fragrance free environment / policy is NOT a hardship. If an employer can have a dress code, why not a fragrance free code? These chemicals are injuring us! I allege coworkers used fragrance as a weapon against me and caused me to become victim of multiple chemical sensitivity. We do not know the chemicals in these products that are causing lifelong injury and job loss. These chemicals are mixing together in the work environment and sensitizing us to multiple chemicals, forever changing our lives. Action needs to take place to follow the CDC fragrance free workplace guidelines. The injured such as myself should be accommodated. Federal EEO complaint is still ongoing.

  2. scentinjured permalink
    January 20, 2011 5:17 pm

    To clarify my previous comment about the Erin Weber and Susan McBride cases, the employer could not prove that fragrance free environment is a hardship. Safe air is a reasonable accommodation. Therefore, a chemical free, scent free environment that protects the air EVERYONE breathes is not a hardship because it requires that everyone REFRAIN from bringing or wearing these personal items, scented products that cause additional chemical pollution that mixes and forms unknown numbers of new chemical chains in the indoor environment. This is a SAFETY ISSUE, not a “personal preference.” These two cases establish legal precedent for establishing policies that protect the air we breathe in our workplace. No one has a right or right of personal preference to cause me a lifelong injury leading to job loss. Thank you.

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