.PEC Protocol

  Personal Environmental Control (PEC) Protocol is based on informal methods where simple tests are used to determine general characteristics of complex reactions and relations. Persons who are hypersensitive to low level chemical exposures in any environment react to odours and emissions. Whether or not an odour is noticable, persons with MCS (multiple chemical sensitivity) may react due to their hypersensitivity to emissions.

Although persons with MCS have severe physical limitations, they are also a low cost natural test mechanism. What is suitable for the hypersensitive, is suitable for anyone. While this may represent a loss of material choice, it is at least directed toward better or more sustainable measures of life.

Using tests that are suitable for persons with MCS, dangerous or unsuitable products and methods are identified. Although chemical producers and addicted chemical users may complain about economic impacts, all humans will benefit from improved health, lower health care costs, higher quality of life, reduced ecological stresses, and fewer legal entanglements, simply by avoidance of what may be harmful. An informed choice may produce a net economic and ecologic gain.

Simple tests

Just as allergic persons seek hypoallergenic material and measures to avoid allergic reactions, chemically hypersensitive persons use similar methods. However, for the chemically hypersensitive, avoidance requires significantly greater environmental control because what incites or prompts reaction "are all quite different from one another: some are ingestants, others inhalants; some are solid, others liquid or gaseous in form; some are simple molecules while others are complex mixtures". (56) So many ordinary things like cosmetics, clothes, food, furniture, cleaners, building material, etc. that may contain chemicals, must be classified to use or avoid, and what is selected, carefully tested.

The sniff test is one that most people can apply. If an odour is noticible, an emission is present. Whether it will prompt a reaction is another test. Persons with MCS are the best consultants to determine reactivity.

The natural test relies on knowing material composition and any processing applied. Many natural products are treated with chemicals usually to preserve them. For example wood may be painted or cotton cloth treated with formaldehyde. In order to minimize emissions the type of paint is an important choice and whether or not cloth treatments can be removed.

Odours and emissions

"Throughout this document, the terms odours and emissions are used interchangeably. However, there is a difference. Emissions are chemicals released into the air as gases from materials. These chemicals may or may not be perceived by the sense of smell. When they are perceived by the sense of smell, they are called odours.

The type and quantity of chemicals present in emissions from materials can only be measured with laboratory equipment. Although the chemicals emitted by some building materials are known from laboratory testing, the emissions from the majority of materials are unknown. As well, the health effects of many chemical emissions cannot be predicted because the medical research has not been done.

Most hypersensitive individuals do not have material emissions test data or laboratory equipment to verify the presence of chemicals in their home. For this reason, the sense of smell is the only practical, if imperfect, means to test for chemical emissions from materials.

The Comments sections in this publication continually refer to odours from materials. The presence of an odour is an indication that volatile substances have been released by the material into the air. The odour of a material is a proxy for its chemical emission.

The hypersensitive readily perceive odours and may find them troublesome. However, the presence of an odour does not necessarily mean that the material is unsafe. For some, an odour may be innocuous or even pleasant. For others, an odour may act as an irritant, an allergen, a toxin or simply a nuisance that can cause markedly different symptoms from one person to another.

As well, the absence of an odour does not necessarily mean that the material is safe for use by the environmentally hypersensitive. Some gases are odourless, or perceptible only at high concentrations.

The effect of odours (emissions) on the environmentally hypersensitive will depend upon the duration and intensity of the exposure, the toxicity to the individual, and the combination of chemicals present in the air." (1)

(1) Building Materials for the Environmentally Hypersensitive (Introduction). Project team: Julie Van Vilet, Oliver Drerup, Jeff Feigin, Ed Lowans, David Rousseau. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 1995. (p. v). ISBN 0-662-21107-3