June 11, 2007

A fragrance-free Gathering?

This past First Day morning, I attended a discussion about how to make the meetinghouse accessible to people who have asthma, allergies, multiple chemical sensitivity, or an otherwise compromised immune system as a result of disease or chemotherapy. Even people with migraines have symptoms that point to these same concerns, about certain environmental triggers that can provoke a physical, physiological, or even neurological reaction.

It was one of the most interesting discussion groups I've attended among Friends!

The Friends who presented the topic and helped facilitate the discussion participate in a support committee for a Friend who has moderate to severe chemical sensitivities. They are severe enough that if certain cleaning agents are used--say, to wipe down tables as potluck is wrapping up--the Friend has only a few seconds to clear out of the building or risk getting something akin to hand tremors as a result of neurological damage.

In many ways, it's been an uphill journey to educate the meeting and so success is measured in small-but-significant accomplishments, like changing out the whiteboard and dry-erase markers for flipchart paper and non-toxic markers; and converting the run-of-the-mill cleaning products in the kitchen and bathrooms from heavily fragranced (due to chemicals) to fragrance-free. Even items with ingredients such as "natural fragrances" and "essential oils" have to be avoided... for reasons I didn't quite grasp at the time.

It's a steep learning curve for many of us because our lives are unknowingly intertwined with chemical products and because those who experience reactions to environmental triggers are often invisible to us: they stay away from places and events that they know will be problematic.

It's a big task for a meeting with 200 households to go fragrance-free. It's even a bigger task for FGC to go fragrance-free. And this year, FGC's 2007 Gathering intends to take significant steps towards just that.

For more than 1,500 Quakers.

It's a big task. Understatement. But some big strides have been undertaken too.

For example:

For years, a very small handful of Friends have been doing a lot of behind-the-scenes advocacy and education. The result? This year, there is a housing cluster that is designated as fragrance free.

Also, a statement about avoiding scents and fragrances is likely to go out, either in a pre-Gathering correspondence or in the onsite registration packets. And free samples of fragrance-free toiletries are likely to be available to attenders, at least in some significant amount. What that "amount" is remains to be seen.

Another thing that I've heard is that the cleaning staff of the university where the Gathering will take place is being instructed to use certain cleaning agents in the fragrance-free housing. It's unclear to me if FGC is providing those products or if the university is. In the meantime, the university staff will be learning about these concerns, too.

Here are some resources and tips that I found worthwhile that came out of the discussion session:

  • Website for the Toxics Information Project, which is directed by a Friend.

  • Downloadable handout about the myths of chemical sensitivity.

  • FACTOID: Products marked as "unscented" may in fact have a "masking fragrance" that causes difficulties for people with chemical sensitivites.

  • FACTOID: Chemicals that are banned in the U.S. by OSHA for use in the industrial field are found in certain perfumes and other products--because those same chemicals aren't banned in the U.S. in cosmetics.

  • FACTOID: Dry-erase markers and Sharpies are terrible for folks with environmental triggers! And chalk dust is bad for people with asthma.

  • FACTOID: Crayola makes a set of non-toxic (fragrance free?) markers, which seem to be informally endorsed by a few Friends who are facing these concerns.

  • FACTOID: Good ventilation and open spaces can help alleviate or minimize some of the toxins in the air.

  • FACTOID: A pinch of baking soda for some people is a fine replacement for store-bought deodorant. I like this product myself; Arm & Hammer doesn't quite cut it for me.
  • One last thing I should mention:

    I think FGC staff and the Friends who have been doing this education and advocacy seem to have realistic expectations. I don't think there's anyone who expects ALL 1,500 Friends to change their habits and their awareness overnight. Some might not even receive or look at the statement that goes out about using fragrance-free products.

    As for me... Am I going to remember to seek out a new shampoo or get new sunscreen before Gathering? Will I avoid using bug spray if the mosquitos are particularly bad? Will I remember that "unscented" doesn't necessarily mean fragrance-free???

    I may not remember everything I learned in a one-hour session, but I might remember--and put into practice--one or two new ideas... And tending to the small things will help with tending to the big things over time.



    Anonymous said...
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
    Anonymous said...

    Hi Liz,

    It is interesting to colleagues of mine at work who are not originally from the US, how we are concerned for the minority. To them, it seems a peculiarity (and a heritage?) of the democratic republic in which we live. Other folks around here find it plain anoying. I believe we all should be mindfull of the needs and sensitivities (chemical and otherwise) of those around us.

    At the same time, there also needs to be a balance. Specifically, the bug-spray comment you have near the end there... Perhaps not using it is an option, or maybe a frangrance-free version is available, but the need to not impinge upon the chemically sensitive person must be weighed against the potential life-threatening affects of mosquito-borne diseases. Yes, this is a dramatic example, but I think it's important to note (as has been done on a myriad of subjects lately in blogs) that a balance must be found.

    Liz in the Mist said...

    Thanks for the thoughtful post! I will be at FGC (in AYF housing) and that is good to think about with bug spray etc.

    I have mild fragrance issues--with lotion (I have certain brands that don't make me red), facial products etc but nothing extreme.

    Thanks for the awareness!

    Liz Opp said...

    A few notes about the removal of NaNcY's comment.

    NaNcY -

    I encourage you to post the information/situation you had in your original comment directly on your own blog. If you decide to post it, might I suggest you include a statement that verifies that the persons within it have given their permission for the piece to be shared within the blogosphere...?

    (Note: The same information that was contained in the original comment can be found elsewhere.)

    Also to readers who are new to The Good Raised Up and/or to blogging:

    It is important to me as a Quaker blogger that we share of our own personal experiences and not those of others. And I'd like to think I've been consistent about the tone and scope of The Good Raised Up over the past couple of years.

    The deleted comment included information about persons that are not known to me and, it seemed, was a request for financial aid--which might be appropriate elsewhere but not, in this particular case, here.

    Also, a Friend contacted me and asked for a certain modification within the comment to be made. Unfortunately I think comments cannot be edited once they are posted. Or at least I see no way for me to make the requested change.

    I did not feel I could, in good conscience, leave the comment stand; neither did I feel I could say nothing, given its length and subject matter, as to why I removed it.

    I have done my best to approach this situation with care, so my apologies if I have somehow offended or confused anyone.


    P.S. I have written elsewhere about blog etiquette as well.

    P.P.S. I will respond to Alan's and Lovin' Life Liz's comments separately.

    Liz Opp said...

    Alan -

    Thanks for taking the time to comment! This part of your remarks, about the use of bug repellent, make good sense to me:

    ...the need to not impinge upon the chemically sensitive person must be weighed against the potential life-threatening affects of mosquito-borne diseases.

    This "balancing act" was a point that was also raised during the discussion and it certainly has been a part of the discernment and decision-making about switching from white boards to flipcharts; where to have certain workshops and events located; etc.

    I too wonder how the U.S. is viewed, in terms of how we single out certain groups and then create laws. procedures, or programs to either isolate the groups further or provide services to them... or what-have-you. If we all came together and simply saw one another as FAMILY, as our brothers and sisters, we might not need all the watchdog groups, advocacy groups, etc. etc.

    Lovin' Life Liz -

    Thanks for your comment! ...I didn't really know to what extent this topic would speak to people's conditions, but I recognize I had the hope that it just might raise the awareness of a handful of people even a notch or two.


    Anonymous said...

    thanks liz
    i just want to say that i am sorry and hope that you will forgive me for the misuse of your blog comment area.

    Liz Opp said...

    NaNcY -

    No worries. You are already forgiven. ...I trust you didn't start the day wondering how you might "misuse" The Good Raised Up.



    Robin M. said...

    Sigh. I just checked and both our bottles of sunscreen are officially fragrance-free. We could get some fragrance-free shampoo. I'm bringing my citronella based bug spray though. My first large Quaker gathering was heavily impacted by the over 100 mosquito bites on my then-two-year-old child. It's a hot button for me.

    ef (Pam) said...

    hey Liz

    awesome topic, I'm glad it came up.

    I have a friend with MCS who will be at gathering, so it's nice to know that the topic is being taken seriously.

    A few years ago I attended a gathering where I was assigned a roommate who checked the "fragrance free" box on a form, and the result was simply that she wasn't given sheets or soap (I think they told her that ahead of time, but I'm not sure) - *I* was given both, and never informed that my roomie had any special accomadation needs. Fortunately, her situation was far from acute, and I'm largely fragrance free simply from dislike of chemicals.

    I was wondering if it's possible for the gathering store, or some other group, to come prepared with "acceptable" basics - soap, shampoo, bug stuff, etc., so that people have a convenient resource if they didn't remember, or know, to bring the right things.

    just a thought.



    Liz in the Mist said...

    One thing with my sensitive skin I can only use a certain brand of deodrant--pretty sure baking soda would make me break out!!

    Is there a good list somewhere of fragrance free stuff?

    Liz Opp said...

    Robin -

    One person's non-toxic product is another person's ineffective protection. I have found that most people who are chemically sensitive understand this--they just might be a bit more vocal about their needs than the rest of us.

    Pam -

    I believe that the bathrooms in the fragrance-free housing will have nontoxic, unscented products available and that University staff who clean the building will be directed to use nontoxic cleaning agents. Or something like that.

    I also understand that samples of nontoxic products are planned to be available, but whether those will be at registration or elsewhere is not a detail I've kept track of.

    I believe there will be a handout with other details in the registration packet, though I'm not sure how "visible" or prominent it will be. FGC is still on the learning curve about just who needs to have information on accessibility needs--those who have the disability or those who make choices that impact those who have a disability. Or both.

    Lovin' Life Liz - Some people are fine with using pure baking soda, like me. Others need something else, like my partner. She uses a natural deodorant crystal product.

    Also, check out the bottom part of this webpage from the "Toxic Info" page I linked to within the post.

    I myself need to look into buying a nontoxic, unscented shampoo this week!


    Anonymous said...

    RE: Deoderant. Baking soda can cause salt burns on sensitive skin (think about how ticklish your underarms are). I got burned using baking soda but Liz didn't. I use a 'crystal' deoderant like thecrystal.com or http://www.deodorantstones.com (I couldn't find my brand but I get it at Whole Foods). They come not only in solid form (which you need to wet before applying), but many come in spray and roll-on form. And this product has a bonus. You can use it on any part of your body that you find is smelly or sweaty. Using this product on my notoriously smelly feet transformed keeps my feet sweet-smelling.

    Anonymous said...

    Oops. Lovin' Life Liz posted a similar post. And she found the product I use: http://www.natlallergy.com/product.asp?pn=1349&bhcd2=1182367357


    Liz in the Mist said...

    My deodrant JUST released a new kind--sensitive skin fragrance free, great timing!

    I got fragrance free Aveeno shaving gel (I have to use some or I razor burn easily).

    My shower gel--the only kind I can use breaking out--is Dove Sensitive SKin but it says UNSCENTED, my dad thought it was the same thing but wanted to check.

    Have All free and clear which I am 95% sure is fragrance free.

    I could NOT find shampoo and cond. fragrance free so I called my hair lady and she found me some sample size shampoo and conditioner that are fragrance free.

    Toothpaste and makeup---should I be worried about this?

    Please post any replies on my blog in case i forget to check this before gathering!

    Robin M. said...

    I found a fragrance free shampoo - in the baby aisle. I'm worried though that it won't actually get grown-up hair clean. Does it defeat the purpose if I wash my hair twice - once with an actual cleaning product and then with the fragrance removing product?

    I also found fragrance free moist wipes, a very handy item to have while traveling.

    Liz Opp said...

    Thanks for continuing to check back to see what others are saying about this whole fragrance-free thing. I wish I could say I have all the answers, but--like most things--I don't!

    I too had trouble finding a fragrance-free shampoo. Even one that a salesperson pointed me to had "fragrance" listed in the ingredients, subtle a fragrance as it was. I eventually settled on this product by Jason, a product that the Jason website doesn't even list!

    (I'll also point out a list of scent-free products that Canadian Mennonite University has put together--and CMU is where last year's session for Canadian Yearly Meeting were held, in Winnepeg, Manitoba.)

    In response to Robin M's specific question, as I understand it, the concern about shampoo seems to be if the hair is wet or dry. Scents are stronger with wet hair and therefore can trigger a person's adverse reaction, at least for some people who are chemically sensitive.

    And for Lovin' Life Liz and other readers, I think FGC is planning to make some free samples available for Friends who are concerned about the products they have brought with them. We are all doing our best...

    Also, a shout-out to Jeanne, who realized too late that it was me and not the other Liz who posted about the use of baking soda and the "crystal" deodorant. Love you!


    Anonymous said...

    On the bug spray question:
    It is easy to argue that one person's needs around bug spray are equal to another person's needs, but the reality is that people with severe chemical sensitivities can be permanently harmed, even killed, by pesticides, including those in common bug sprays. In addition, MCS and asthmas are disabilities, not preferences, and people with these disabilities are asking for disability accommodations akin to wheelchair ramps or sign language interpreters. Many people imagine that bug spray is protective or innocuous, but further exploration will reveal that it has serious potential to harm able-bodied individuals as well as those with disabilities. It actually is a fairly simple issue. Any organization or religion with a pacifist stance should be fighting -- always -- against the decision of one person to take an action that could harm or kill another. This may sound extreme, but it isn't to those of us who live in social exile and continual fear of death from a neighbor's "preference" to use lawn chemicals, due to our MCS. Many common herbs repel insects, and www.gaiam.com sells portable electronic mosquito-repellers, as well as a fragrance free, DEET-free bug spray.

    Anonymous said...

    I have found some really great products on this website: http://www.unscented-products.com
    Though I am not crazy about all the things they carry I have had wonderful success with their unscented soaps and face wash. The other thing I really like is the aluminum free deodorant. They have some questionable items which they say they are not planning to continue. I can email them for unscented product ideas and even though I'm not always buying something they always seem to be willing to help out with a response. Can't say I have had that kind of help from the majority of other sites I've gone to.

    Liz Opp said...

    Thanks for the added information, Anonymous. I'm not clear if you're offering to "email them" as a way to help FGC, but if that's the case I'd encourage you to talk with FGC's conference coordinator first! It's now nearly two years after this post went up, and I don't know where FGC's need for help/ideas/support is.

    On the other hand if you are "just saying"--just saying you plan on emailing them to offer your own ideas and see what they say, more power to you.