1. Residents of communities whose air or water has been contaminated by chemicals

  2. Individuals who have had personal and unique exposures to various chemicals in domestic indoor air, pesticides, drugs, and consumer products

These four groups are listed for comparison in Table 1. Note that they differ in professional and educational attainment, age and sex, and the mix and levels of chemicals to which they are exposed, but that all have multiple symptoms involving multiple organ systems with marked variability in the type and degree of those symptoms. Symptoms are often "subjective". For example, central nervous system (CNS) symptoms such as difficulty concentrating or irritability are common, and physical examinations are frequently unremarkable for individuals in each category.


Chemically Sensitive Groups


Nature of Exposure


Industrial workers

Acute and chronic exposure to industrial chemicals

Primarily males: blue collar, 20 to 65 years old

Tight-building occupants

Off-gassing from construction materials, office equipment or supplies; tobacco smoke; inadequate ventilation

Females more than males; white collar office workers and professionals; 20 to 65 years old; schoolchildren

Contaminated communities

Toxic waste sites; aerial pesticide spraying; water contamination; air contamination by nearby industry and other community exposures

All ages, male and female; children or infants may be affected first or most; pregnant women with possible effects on fetuses; middle to lower class


Heterogeneous; indoor air (domestic), consumer products, drugs, and pesticides

70-80% females; 30 to 50 years old (Johnson and Rea 1989); white middle to upper middle class and professionals

Many affected individuals report a major precipitating (inducing or "sensitizing") exposure which marked the onset of their chemical sensitivities. In one survey of 6,800 persons claiming to be chemically sensitive, 80 percent asserted that they knew "when, where, with what, and how they were made ill" (National Foundation for the Chemically Hypersensitive, 1989). Of the 80 percent, 60 percent (that is, almost half of those who replied) blamed pesticides. The respondents to the survey were self selected, and the result

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