When I started my new job last month I had one big concern. I wasn’t worried about the challenge of my new position. Rather, I was concerned about the air I would be breathing.
I’m chemically sensitive, especially to chemical scents. I’d already seen what my work space: a small, partially-partitioned “cubby.” I would be sharing an open area with 10 others. What if coworkers have potpourri on their desk, or put air freshener “plug-ins” in their space? What if they wear perfume?
If you aren’t familiar with it this type of sensitivity, adverse physical reactions to scented products are a very real thing for millions of people.
I have personally experienced how significant exposure to scented items can cause difficulty concentrating. It can also trigger anxiety, make my heart race, and give me headaches. Research documents that symptoms can include a rash, difficulty breathing, asthma symptoms like wheezing, a tightness in chest, and a runny or stuffy nose,
Dr. Anne Steinemann: In addition to people with asthma collectively experiencing millions of attacks from air fresheners, for more than 20 million people, illness from exposure to fragranced products in the workplace is associated with lost workdays and lost jobs. Further, over 24 million asthmatics have health problems from fragrance exposures that are potentially disabling.
In my previous job, air-fresheners were not used in the building and I didn’t notice an odor from cleaning products. I had a private office and I kept a small air purifier running; scents were not an issue for me there. I’ve also spent many years as a consultant, working from the safety of my very natural and unscented home. I knew this new position could represent a new challenge.
My first (toxic) day at work
I quickly learned on my first day that Anita, who sits directly on my left, slathers scented lotion on her hands several times a day. When I say scented, I mean super smelly. On top of that, my boss wears strong perfume and a co-worker has a scented plug-in in his space. Wooof!
While some readers probably find these types of odors enjoyable, or just a little annoying, that reaction is not an option for me. By the end of the first day I had brain fog and a headache.
I drove home wondering how I could possibly work there. I needed and wanted this job! But how could I make sure I had a “clean” office work space without getting others upset by asking them to change their lifestyle and personal products? And what if they wouldn’t?
Well, I’ll jump ahead and tell you the good news. I never discussed this with any of the staff on the floor where I work. Yet, just one week later, my boss informed our office group that the board of directors had decided to make the entire building scent-free! This, he said, would include personal products (yay!) and also switching to natural cleaning materials that did not have strong chemical odors! What a relief.
How did this magically come about? Let me explain, in hopes that it could help others in this situation.