Public Comment Needed by Monday, August 18, 2008: Chemical Sensitivity Omitted from Americans with Disabilities Act Proposed Regs
(Beyond Pesticides, August 15, 2008) With a public comment period that ends Monday, August 18, 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice, Disability Rights Section, Civil Rights Division proposes rulemaking that fails to recognize chemical sensitivity (CS) and environmental illnesses as disabilities that may require specific access standards. In a public comment to be submitted next week, Beyond Pesticides urges the Justice Department to specifically include access requirements for those with CS and environmental illnesses in its rulemaking. The organization is urging the public to send comments as well, and invites sign-ons to the Beyond Pesticides’ comment.
The comment says, “The proposed rule errs in omitting environmental illness and chemical sensitivity with a justification that people with the illness may have a “sensitivity [that does] not rise to the level needed to constitute a disability.” This statement is false and out of step with environmental medicine which diagnoses CS as a chemical-induced illness from which patients suffer with debilitating effects. Similar to other disabilities, a diagnosis reflects a finding that patients cannot function as a result of exposure to neurotoxic chemicals. Eliminating the chemical exposure substantially increases their ability to function and lead normal lives.”
The comment continues, “As an organization whose primary focus is pesticides, Beyond Pesticides is in contact with people who are chemically sensitive and are exposed to pesticides, thus substantially limiting their life activities on a regular basis. These are people whose disability is not well understood or accepted by the general public, which is uninformed about the illness. In conveying their concerns to neighbors, employers or landlords they often receive ridicule instead of respect and accommodation. Without mentioning in the text of the accessibility standards of the ADA that those with chemical sensitivities are indeed protected when life activities are substantially limited and that they have specific access requirements, people with CS often cannot get their needs addressed without individual lawsuits to prove their disability. This becomes a burden and barrier to protection.”
The comment points to a 1992 memorandum issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that recognizes CS and environmental illness as a “handicap,” with all the protections afforded those disabled by this illness. The comment reads, “In a 1992 memorandum entitled “Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Disorder and Environmental Illness as Handicaps,” the Office of General Counsel in the Department of Housing and Urban Development clearly defines MCS and environmental illness as “handicaps” within the meaning of subsection 802(h) of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 3602(h), and the Department’s implementing regulations, 24 C.F.R. Section 100.201 (1991).” Rather than equivocate on this debilitating condition, protection should be ensured under the proposed rulemaking beyond one’s place of residence.”
Beyond Pesticides’ comment includes the story and recommendation of a former physical education teacher and coach in Kansas who writes:
With proper accommodation, I would still be teaching and coaching today! Officially recognizing not only the life-changing severity of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, but also the value of “avoidance” in treating it would help building administrators understand how to keep employees with this disability on the job. I have many friends who are also disabled by MCS. Not one of them wanted to quit their job! But lack of accommodation caused their illness to progress to the point where they could no longer work. MCS takes a huge toll on individual lives and results in unnecessary loss of productivity. I urge you to officially recognize Multiple Chemical Sensitivity/Environmental Illness as a disability requiring accommodation for accessibility. The chemical barriers that prevent those with MCS from entering buildings are every bit as limiting as lack of a ramp would be to someone in a wheelchair. Those with MCS deserve the same rights as other citizens. Recognizing MCS as a “qualified disability” would go a long way toward achieving equal access for everyone!
Beyond Pesticides suggests that the rulemaking include the following language: “Integrated pest management (IPM) practices to protect those disabled with chemical sensitivity (CS) or environmental illnesses and ensure access are required in public facilities or properties to include the following practices: identification of pests and conditions that attract pests; prevention techniques, such as sanitation, vacuuming, structural repair and sealing; monitoring; education and training; approved least toxic chemicals whose use does not, by virtue of its neurotoxic or other properties, impair the abilities of those with CS; and pre-notification and posting of chemical use.”
The full text of Beyond Pesticides’ comment can be seen here. Thanks to Mary Lamielle of the National Center for Environmental Health Strategies for alerting us to the comment period. Read her comments here.
TAKE ACTION: Access the Federal Register and submit comments electronically here. Click on the yellow dialogue bubble that says “add comments.” If you would like to sign on to Beyond Pesticides’ comment, please contact Natalie Lounsbury, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-543-5450, by 3:00pm (EDT) on Monday, August 18, 2008.