Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Right to Smell

Bianca Solorzano reported on "The Early Show" that city employee Susan McBride complained she was "chemically sensitive" and a co-worker's perfume and room deodorizer made it difficult for her to breathe and do her job -- so much so that she suffered migraines, nausea and coughing.
Ann Curry Thompson, McBride's attorney, told CBS News, "You can't come into a workplace loaded in one of these so-called designer perfumes that broadcasts itself across the room."
McBride won a $100,000 settlement. Detroit city employees in the three buildings where McBride works are now being warned not to wear scented products, including colognes, aftershave, perfumes, and deodorants, or even use candles and air fresheners...
source: CBS News - The Early Show
I find this case truly ridiculous. It is very debatable whether the use of personal fragrances is a personal right but to totally eliminate the use of personal products, whether for vanity or hygiene, for the sake of one person, whose claim in the first place is not very justifiable, in three buildings, is absurd. We are social creatures who will accommodate for our community, but only to a certain extent. Let me highlight a few points:

1. There are other objects in the office that may trigger sensitivities. The photocopier is a big contributor of chemicals and cations to the office air. Not forgetting the 'sick building' syndrome, recycled office air is a contributor too. The chronic exposure to such conditions for someone who is sensitive results in a constant inflammatory state that anything could be a trigger for her symptoms. We cannot remove the photocopier from the office and definitely not the air, so perhaps she should remove herself from the office and work in an environment that is better for her?

2. The excessive and wrong use of fragrances is an irritation and this I agree, but the lack of deodorizing gives me a bigger headache. Many people use fragrances not to smell good, but to not smell bad. I certainly cannot stay focused in an environment where people start to emit excessive personal odour after the afternoon sun. Maybe she should come here and take the MRT at 6pm and then tell us if it gives her a bigger headache.

3. Perhaps the man sitting next to Ms McBride in the office suffers from trimethylaminuria and the only fragrance that is able hide his fishy odour is A*Men and now that he can no longer wear any scent, he suffers from daily embarrassment and faces the possibility of a dismissal.

4. You don't ask for trees and plants to be removed just because you suffer from debilitating hayfever. You wear a mask, stay indoors and take vitamin C.

I'd like to know what you think about this case so please comment.


  1. I too find this ridiculous , Gene .It makes me want to cover myself in scent and walk around her office in protest . Or not bathe for a month and RUN around her desk all day long .
    But then , I am lucky , I am not allergic nor sensitive to anything , including other people...LOL .

  2. It is a pity she wouldn't be able to appreciate the magic of .. say L'air du Temps.


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