Environmental Issue & Sick Building Syndrome Blog

Testing, Identifying and Remediating for Chemically Sensitive Patients

April 8th, 2018 9:20 PM by Dan Howard

January 15, 2018

Courtesy: Michael A. Pinto, CSP, SMS, CMP, CFO

Edited by Dan Howard, Envirospect  


Testing, Identifying and Remediating for Chemically Sensitive Patients

Patients are increasingly being faced with the challenge of situations where chemically sensitive individuals are sick in their homes and there are few individuals understanding their challenges or able to help with creating a less toxic environment  

While many professionals have some experience with individuals sensitive to specific contaminants like mold or spray-foam insulation, few are able to need the needs of people who may have a low tolerance for chemicals as well as specific contaminants.

There needs to be education and training of environmental professionals and medical practitioners on the specific cleaning techniques of source removal, neutralization, off-gassing, and oxidation.

Why Is This Subject Important?

One of confusing problems is that there are numerous terms used to identify the physical conditions associated with sensitivity. Two of the most common descriptors are “chemical intolerance” (CI) or “multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).


An interesting sidebar to the sensitization research was the realization that individuals who are sensitizable are more likely to be diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Chronic Fibromyalgia (CF), Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), and other previously mysterious maladies.

As the medical community continues research into this field, the focus has turned to the question about what role a person’s genetic make-upplays in their likelihood of becoming chemically sensitized.  Depending on which study is reviewed, the data indicates that 15-30% of the general population are highly “sensitizable”. The researchers come to these numbers by evaluating large groups of people and measuring their heart rate, blood pressure, and immune system allergic response markers.

There is a correlation of certain factors that may play a role in sensitization. These include a family history of sensitization, certain exposures and health history

Acute Or Chronic Exposures; It Is Still Chemicals

This research into susceptibility is starting to answer some lingering questions in the field of chemical sensitization. Many cases have demonstrated that a big “trigger event”, such as exposure to a chemical as a result of an accidental release, will cause chemical sensitization in a very large percentage of the exposed population.  But, even in that sort of scenario only a portion of the people exposed will develop any long-term sensitivity to the initial chemical or a broader range of chemicals. The distinctions in individuals developing a reaction are even more pronounced if the trigger event is a chronic situation, one where the exposure happens a little at a time over a period of weeks or months.


Of course, the primary cause of chemical sensitivity is exposure to chemicals.  However, controlling chemical exposure, especially for children, is increasingly difficult because more chemicals are being added to our lives every day. Some of the main sources of chemical exposure include off-gassing from building products, use of personal care items, building contents and furnishings, packaging supplies, food, and residual chemical contamination in our indoor and outdoor environment.

Compared to 40 or 50 years ago, most people have dramatically increased their exposure to chemicals. It is not just that people tend to spend more time indoors, a big factor is that buildings are constructed to be more air tight. In addition to increased energy efficiency, that trend of tighter buildings trap more of the chemicals that are off-gassed. It also means that there is less dilution of small particles that are created during daily life activities and cleaning.

Cleaning To Address All The Chemical Transport Mechanisms

The simple reality is that dust and chemicals are present in our buildings. Contractors wishing to help individuals with chemical sensitivities by conducting specialized cleaning, or those who want to avoid problems by properly cleaning after a restoration activity, need to address both the chemicals and the dust. Modern house dust has a significant percentage of chemical solids as part of its makeup. In addition, many of the other dust particles, particularly those that are fibrous, absorb vaporous chemicals. That is why source removal, including the removal of residual built up dust, is key to addressing the concerns of chemically sensitized building occupants.


We all need to recognize that the number of chemicals and chemically sensitized people found in buildings are both growing at a significant rate. This is not a good combination. The frequency with which individuals are experiencing adverse reactions to chemicals is obvious evidence that there is a growing group which cannot tolerate the “normal” chemical load in today’s modern buildings. In those situations, the contaminants must either be cleaned or neutralized in order to protect or facilitate recovery of their health.

Trained professionals in the assessment, testing, cleaning and restoration industry can certainly rise to this challenge if they just take a few minutes to understand the needs of these potential clients and review their work procedures with the goal to properly service all of their customers, even if they are chemically sensitizable.



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