March 14 (UPI) -- One in four people in the United States reports a sensitivity to chemicals, including exposure to insect spray, paint, cleaning supplies, fragrances and petrochemical fumes, according to a study.
The prevalence of chemical sensitivity has increased significantly in recent years, as researchers found more than a quarter of Americans report a sensitivity and half of them -- 12.8 percent -- have been diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivities, or MCS, report researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia in a study published in the March issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
"MCS is a serious and potentially disabling disease that is widespread and increasing in the U.S., population," Dr. Anne Steinemann, a professor of civil engineering and chairwoman of Sustainable Cities at the University of Melbourne School of Engineering, said in a press release.
Based on a national random sample of 1,137 people interviewed online, Steinemann found chemical sensitivity has increased in the past decade more than 200 percent and diagnosed MCS climbed 300 percent -- totaling an estimated 55 million adults in the United States that have MCS.
MCS has resulted in an estimated 22 million Americans losing work days or a job in the past year from exposure to fragranced consumer products in the workplace, Steinemann said.
In the study, they found people with MCS experience a variety of migraines, dizziness, breathing difficulties and heart problems, with the severity of these effects being disabling for 76 percent of them.
Among people with MCS, 71 percent of people are asthmatic and 86.2 report health problems from fragranced consumer products, such as air fresheners, scented laundry products, cleaning supplies, fragranced candles, perfume and personal care products.
"People with MCS are like human canaries. They react earlier and more severely to chemical pollutants, even at low levels," Steinemann said.
She recommends those sensitive to chemicals to choose products without any fragrance. Also encouraged are fragrance-free policies in workplaces, healthcare facilities, schools and other indoor places.