MCS prevalence in New Mexico
In 1997 the state of New Mexico conducted an MCS prevalence study as
part of a larger health survey. The results were not publicized in a
journal, but buried in the 1997 New Mexico Behavioral Risk Factor
Survey report. We reprint a letter with the results.
Keywords: MCS prevalence, multiple chemical sensitivity prevalence, New
Mexico, Ronald Voorhees
March 18, 1998
To: Joe Thompson, Special Counsel
Office of the Governor
From: Ronald E. Voorhees, MD, MPH
Deputy State Epidemiologist
Re: Information on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)
The Office of Epidemiology, a unit of the Public Health Division in the
Department of Health, was approached by the Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Task
Force in 1996 to determine the prevalence of this condition in New Mexico. Other
states, most notably California and North Carolina, had undertaken similar
projects. The state of California received federal support to study this condition
Our approach was to add three questions related to MCS onto the annual
Behavioral Risk Factor Survey (BRFS). The BRFS is a federally-supported
telephone survey of a sample of adult New Mexicans which is conducted annually
to determine the prevalence of certain health risks in the population, such as
cigarette smoking, diabetes, and lack of health insurance. The 1997 sample
consisted of approximately 1,800 persons.
While working definitions of MCS exist, the approach used by us (and other
states) is to ascertain the prevalence of reported symptoms of chemical sensitivity.
Our office worked with the MCS Task Force to develop questions very much like
those used in California. The questions were:
1. Compared to other people do you consider yourself allergic or unusually
sensitive to everyday chemicals like those in household cleaning products, paints,
perfumes, detergents, insect sprays and things like that?
2. Have you ever been diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivity, which is also
known as environmental illness?
3. Due to chemical sensitivities, have you ever lost or had to give up a job or
The possible responses to each were: Yes, No, Don’t Know/Not sure, and Refused.
Statewide, 17% of respondents reported being allergic or unusually to everyday chemicals. While we have not received the final weighting data from CDC, this data suggests that approximately 150,000-200,000 adults consider themselves chemically sensitive to some degree.
Just under two percent (1.9%) reported having been diagnosed with MCS. This
would suggest that approximately 20,000 adults may have been diagnosed with
Just over two percent (2.2%) reported losing or giving up a job or occupation due
to MCS. (Not all persons who reported giving up a job reported being diagnosed.
Similarly, not all persons who reported being diagnosed reported loosing or giving
up a job.) This indicates that roughly 24,000 adults may have left jobs due to
sensivity to certain chemicals.
As seen on the attached maps, there was not much difference in the proportion of
respondents in the different quadrants of the state. The proportion of reported
sensitivity to chemicals ranged from 14.1% in the southeast part of the state to
20.2% in the northeast. The proportion reporting a diagnosis of MCS was highest
in Bernalillo County (2.4%), followed by the southwest quadrant (2.3%).
Reported loss of job was highest in the southwest (3.4%), followed by the
While the causation of MCS is not entirely clear, what is evident is that a
significant proportion of the adult population in New Mexico report symptoms or
have been diagnosed with the condition. (By way of comparison, approximately
5% of respondents report being diagnosed with diabetes, although almost twice
that number actually have the disease.)
The impact of the condition may be substantial. If, for example, those reporting
losing a job or occupation experienced an average net loss of $10,000 in annual
income, the resulting loss to the state in tax revenues alone would be
approximately $15,000,000 (assuming 6% tax on the lost income).
Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.
cc: J. Alex Valdez, Secretary NMDOH
Norty Kalishman, MD, Chief Medical Officer, NMDOH
William H. Wiese, MD, MPH, Director, Public Health Division, NMDOH
C. Mack Sewell, DrPH, MS, State Epidemiologist
Results of Analyses of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Questions
Estimates based on less than 50 respondents are considered unreliable by the
Individuals who responded “Don’t know/Not sure” or who refused to respond
have been excluded from Table 4 through 57.
Table 1. MCS1: Compared to other people, do you consider yourself allergic or
unusually sensitive to everyday chemicals like those in household cleaning
products, paints, perfumes, detergents, insect sprays, and things like that?
Table 2. MCS2: Have you ever been diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivity,
which is also known as environmental illness
Table 3, MCS3: Due to chemical sensitivities, have you ever lost or had to give up
a job or occupation?
Table 43. MCS1 versus RACENM (row percents)
Other articles about MCS on www.eiwellspring.org.