Chemical sensitivity attributed to pesticide exposure versus remodeling

Claudia S. Miller, Howard C. Mitzel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

135 Scopus citations


One hundred twelve individuals who reported onset of multiple chemical sensitivity following well-documented exposure to either (1) a cholinesteraoe-inhibiting organophosphate or carbamate pesticide or (2) remodeling of a building completed mailout/mail-back questionnaires concerning their exposure, symptoms, sensitivity to ingestants and inhalants, utilization of health-care resources, and impact of their illness on lifestyle. It was hypothesized that if multiple chemical sensitiv.9 resulted from neurotoxic exposure, then organophosphate-expd respondents should report greater severity of illness resulting from the relatively greater neurotoxicity of this class of chemicals. Pesticide-exposed and remodeling-exposed multiple chemical sensitivity groups reported similar patterns of symptoms and identified similar inhalants and ingestants as triggers for their symptoms; these results suggested a common mechanism (biological and/or psychological) for their conditions. The pesticidesxposed group, however, reported significantly greater symptom severity than did the remodeling-exposed group, especially for neuromuscular, affective, airway, gastrointestinal, and cardiac symptoms. These findings provide evidence for (1) a possible biological basis for multiple chemical sensitivity and (2) a distinct pathophysiology or final common pathway for the condition that, while as yet undefined, appears to be shared by these two groups. Although subjective multisystem health complaints characterize both multiple chemical sensitivity and somatoform disorder, features of this multiple chemical sensitivity sample were inconsistent with somatoform disorder, i.e., onset after 30 y of age in 83%, the predominance of severe cognitive symptoms, and attributions of environmental causation. No group differences were found with respect to lidestyle impact. Eighty-one percent of respondents said they had been working full-time at the time they were exposed, yet at the time of the survey (on average, 7.7 y post exposure) only 12.5% were working full-time. The majority said they had quit their jobs, changed jobs, or changed careers because of their illness. Approximately 40% reported that they had consulted 10 or more medical practitioners. The persistent, disabling neuropsychological symptoms reported by these multiple chemical sensitivity groups are strikingly similar to those reported among individuals exposed occupationally to pesticides and solvents. These parallel findings suggest that the types and levels of exposures associated with extermination and remodeling may not be inconsequential, at least for a subset of the population. Further studies from a variety of perspectives, including human challenge studies and the development of animal models, are needed to define the pathophysiological and psychological mechanisms underlying this costly condition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-129
Number of pages11
JournalArchives of Environmental Health
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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