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Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Accessibility for United Methodist Churches

The following is taken from Accessibility Audit for Churches, A United Methodist Resource Book about Accessibility. Page 9-10



Access for Those Who Are Chemically Sensitive

Indoor air pollution can be a serious deterrent to worship for people who have severe reactions to indoor and outdoor air pollution as well as to extremely low levels of chemicals generally regarded as safe. These reactions can occur in persons with severe illness (such as AIDS or asthma) or with multiple chemical sensitivities. Awareness of this disability is just emerging, and churches and other buildings typically have not been built or operated to take indoor and out-door air contaminants into account. However, we are becoming increasingly aware of links between environmental pollutants and sickness.

The National Academy of Sciences estimates that 15 percent of the population has some degree of sensitivity to chemicals. This population includes people from all areas of life and with a wide range of reactions. At one end of the range are those who merely have a headache when exposed to a neighbor’s perfume, but the headache will cease when the exposure is discontinued. Towards the other end of the range are those who have severe migraines that last for hours after the exposure is discontinued. Still other people may fall asleep during the sermon or experience debilitating fatigue for days or become confused and unable to think clearly because of reactions to chemicals in the church. Some may even lose physical coordination or experience seizures or life-threatening reactions. Disabilities caused by sensitivity to chemicals are often invisible and they come and go with exposure. Sometimes reactions are delayed until after the exposure. These are not allergic reactions and are often more severe than allergies.

The mechanism causing these reactions is not understood. Because of the lack of understanding and the invisible and situational causes of this disability, other people may mistakenly conclude that a person with special sensitivities is not really physically sick at all or could use quot;will powerquot; or drugs to overcome them. Such attitudinal barriers cause withdrawal of emotional and spiritual support at a time when it is most needed. Sufferers from chemical sensitivities not only have to cope with the strain of their disability but may also have to make drastic lifestyle changes such as giving up certain clothing, furniture, work, recreation, church, and friends.

Taking drugs, as some suggest, may actually increase the disability, because people who are chemically sensitive are often hypersensitive to drugs.

Making churches more accessible for people with environmental disabilities may seem to pre-sent a formidable challenge. Nevertheless, a large amount of improvement in air quality is achievable with very little effort. Sources of indoor pollution in church facilities include smoking; pesticides used and stored indoors; combustion exhaust from hot water heaters, furnaces, and gas stoves; volatile organic compounds in cleaning materials; fumes from laser printers, copiers, and other office equipment; air fresheners and deodorizers; interior mold and mildew; kerosene lamps and candles (particularly scented ones); recent remodeling; dyes and fixatives in new drapes, carpets, and upholstery; chemicals, particles, and microorganisms found in heating and cooling systems; asbestos and radon; and flowers that have been treated with pesticides. Inadequate fresh air brought into the ventilation system; improperly maintained filters and poor air duct design in such systems; and ventilation shared in common with rooms that have a source of contamination can aggravate indoor pollution problems. Sources of outdoor pollution include herbicides and pesticides used for lawn care and emissions from vehicles idling in the parking lot. Church members who are wearing scented products, hair sprays, freshly dry-cleaned clothing, or clothing that was cleaned with fabric softeners, or who have been in a smoky room, will significantly contribute to indoor air pollution. In fact, indoor air pollution and perfumes worn by fellow worshippers can make church one of the most difficult places to go for chemically sensitive persons.

Elimination of pollutants at their source is generally necessary for those who experience disabling reactions to low levels of pollution and to a variety of products (typically petrochemicals). While it may be extremely difficult to accommodate the most severely chemically sensitive, many with moderate levels of sensitivity can be accommodated relatively easily, and incremental additional efforts will help those with greater degrees of sensitivity. Churches will be rewarded for additional effort by the knowledge that they are not only performing an important ministry for the range of persons who are sensitive to chemicals but also helping others who do not realize they are affected by environmental pollution. They will also be increasing everyone’s awareness of environmental stewardship issues. The Accessibility Audit will provide a frame-work for beginning to consider indoor air pollution in order to make our churches more comfortable and less toxic for those who are healthy, as well as for those with multiple chemical sensitivities.
br>Rather than costing a lot of money, many accommodations for persons who are chemically sensitive may require no more than minor adjustments. Flexibility on the part of church leaders and a spirit of accommodation on the part of the congregation will go a long way towards individualizing circumstances to meet the needs of a particular chemically sensitive person. Churches may find that making these accommodations will increase the physical comfort level and alertness of many people who had not previously complained of pollutants. Churches may also find that they save money in the long run, as in the case of prohibiting smoking in church buildings or using hard flooring materials rather than carpeting.

Two United Methodist resources on indoor air pollution are: Indoor Air Quality: A Guide for Local/ Churches (stock #5136) and Church-Related Health Facilities and Indoor Air Quality (stock #5138), available in small quantities, free except for postage and handling, from the Service Center, General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church, 7820 Reading Road Caller No. 1800 Cincinnati OH 43222-1800.


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