Acceptance speech – Cindy Duehring

The cost of ignoring the chemical effects on human health is quietly but steadily growing ever higher, creating a dangerous risk to the very underpinnings of society.

The speech was delivered by Jim Duehring.


Respected Speaker of Parliament, members of the Swedish Parliament, Respected Chair of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation.

I would very much like to thank everyone involved in the Right Livelihood Award Foundation for the life changing and empowering work you do, and for the honor of this award. My only regret is that I cannot be here myself to thank you in person. I am grateful that in acknowledging my work, this award is calling attention to the silent but rapidly growing global problem of human chemical injury, including multiple chemical sensitivities, or MCS. If there were no problem, my organization would not exist, because there would be no need.

I cannot say that I would have developed an interest in the issues of chemical injury if I had not been poisoned 12 years ago by a gross misapplication of pesticides in my apartment that directly soaked even all my clothes, but I can say that when this event forced me to research the topic, what I learned irrevocably changed my life.

Up to this point I had been extremely healthy, active in several sports, and pursuing a degree in medicine. The poisoning caused a number of conditions including a seizure disorder, reactive airways disease and a disorder of porphyrin metabolism; as well as autoimmune, kidney, and neurologic damage. I have seizures and severe bronchial reactions from even low level exposures to numerous chemicals such as those found in perfumes and detergents.

My health has steadily deteriorated through the years, in part from unavoidable chemical exposures. My case is unusually extreme as my specially built and heavily filtered home has become an artificial life-support system which I am unable to leave.

While my initial research started as a search for answers to my immediate situation, I soon became motivated by deep concern for other types of chemical injury as well, especially as growing numbers of people started contacting me for information through word of mouth. In 1986 my research organization took root, growing naturally as a response to the tremendous need for help and credible information.

As my horizons broadened and my research efforts intensified, the picture that was emerging was stunning in its global ramifications for society and our future. Apart from the statistics and research on chemically induced cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurologic injury, respiratory disease, immunotoxicity, birth defects, and reproductive problems, is the unconscionable lack of safety data for the prolific explosion of the more than 75,000 chemicals that have flooded our society since World War II. Investigative reports have found that even the most basic toxicity testing is missing for 75% of the top-volume chemicals in commercial use.

Dr. Kenneth Olden, the Director of the U.S. National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, recently expressed his grave concern over the “regulatory gridlock” that allows for testing only 10 of the 1500 new chemicals that come onto the market each year. A full run through the agency’s bioassays takes five years at a cost of $2.6 million for just one chemical. Dr. Olden stated that “the enemy is reliance on outdated assumptions, outdated experimental models, and inadequate information.”

He also expressed concern that testing hasn’t been taking into account the possible synergistic effects of the complex chemical mixtures that are the reality of indoor air exposures in the industrialized world. Indoor air pollution is quietly taking a tremendous toll on society both economically and physically. Preliminary EPA estimates place the potential economic impact of indoor air pollution at tens of billions of dollars per year in the U.S. alone.

In the midst of this grand toxic chemical experiment on the human race, the relatively new phenomenon of MCS has emerged. In 1962, a finely crafted series of double-blind studies by Dr. Eloise Kailin showed MCS is a real physiological problem that can be confirmed with objective testing. In spite of this, follow-up research funding was not forthcoming, and the issue of MCS was sidetracked in a pointless debate between medical disciplines at the expense of the patients. Much valuable time has been lost while the number of affected individuals has continued to mount simultaneously worldwide, engendering controversy on every permanently populated major continent – but that is the point. Chemical injury with MCS exists to a significant degree worldwide or there would be no controversy.

Simply through word of mouth, our organization quickly grew to over 5,000 members in 25 countries. We receive more than 500 requests per month for information on toxic health problems. We regularly work with healthcare professionals in a number of different countries and have provided information by request not only to various agencies in the U.S. government, but for individuals in other governments as well. Research and international reports show that MCS cuts across every economic, educational, and societal demographic category in 36 different countries, and is growing at an alarming rate not only in the industrialized world but even in isolated places such as rural South Africa.

Just one hospital in the United Kingdom has already seen over 12,000 patients with chemical sensitivity, and is seeing over 1,000 new cases each year. In the U.S., a 1981 report by the National Academy of Sciences estimated that up to 15 percent of the population may have heightened sensitivities to chemicals. More recently published studies are consistently indicating that figure has grown to a full one-third of the U.S. general population. Based on its findings, one prevalence study has estimated 4.1% of the general population are more severely affected and suffer from daily or near daily chemical sensitivity reactions, which extrapolates to 10.9 million individuals.

Frustrated by government inaction, independent researchers have conducted clinical research using objective tests in their various specialties. While nearly all routine clinical tests and poorly designed protocols miss the abnormalities in MCS patients, in-depth objective tests have now verified serious injuries in every organ system affected in MCS patients. At least three promising animal models have been discovered for the physiological symptoms of MCS. An especially disturbing fact that has become clear over the years is that not only does MCS have no cure, but the illness is progressive if successive exposures cannot be controlled.

Avoidance of further chemical exposure is the only universally beneficial treatment, and even those who greatly improve cannot return to the same types of environments and chemical exposures that made them ill in the first place. By the time most people contact us, they are so ill they are disabled. Their careers have been destroyed, their savings wiped out on ineffectual doctor visits and treatments, and their lives as they once knew them have been ripped apart and devastated.

They are desperate for help to survive physically and financially. They are applying for Social Security Disability and Workers’ Compensation, and they are having to fight for rights that they never dreamed would be taken from them. Some are suing the manufacturers of the chemicals that poisoned them, but most are too beaten down to even consider it.

While we can’t give them their former lives back, my organization provides credible information that I have searched out through the years from the conservative peer-reviewed medical literature and government documents. For both professionals and lay people, I track these issues and summarize the most relevant medical studies and legal information through the profiles I publish, and through my newsletter, Medical & Legal Briefs: A Referenced Compendium of Chemical Injury.

Obviously society can’t simply withdraw from the market the tens of thousands of untested chemicals that have worked themselves into nearly every aspect of modern society, but governments can put their collective foot down to stop allowing hundreds of new untested chemicals on the market and into world commerce each year. Each nation can make concerted efforts to reduce the current trends in international trade agreements that reduce corporate accountability and interfere with the ability of individual nations to enforce environmental toxicity concerns. They can exert pressure to insist that no new chemicals be added to the mix until they are thoroughly tested. They can make adequate testing of the highest volume chemicals a top priority, and find ways to create economic incentives for industry to increase research into less hazardous alternatives and to implement the many viable alternatives that already exist. They can encourage people to use the numerous truly safer consumer products, pest control methods, and building products already on the market.

And they can choose to address the problem of chemical injury with MCS head on, conducting surveys and funding well-designed research, using as a starting point the extremely promising avenues of physiological research that have already documented objective abnormalities in MCS patients.

There are many who have given up hope that fundamental change will ever occur on a large scale because the fight by vested interests against such change is fierce. Yet short-term profits can short-change our future. The economic cost of change is high, but the cost of ignoring chemical effects on human health is quietly but steadily growing even higher, creating a dangerous risk to the very underpinnings of society. A sustainable future includes human health.

I wish to thank my family, employees, contract labor, supportive friends, and volunteers who have helped make my organization’s services possible in spite of my limited health. A special thank you also goes to Cynthia Wilson, Executive Director of the Chemical Injury Information Network, or CIIN, for her shared vision, encouragement, and friendship over the years as we spent countless hours working together to try to find ways to help serve the desperate needs of chemically injured individuals with MCS.

After working closely together for many years my organization Environmental Access Research Network, or EARN, merged with CIIN in 1994 to become its research division. CIIN/EARN is a non-profit educational and advocacy organization run by and for the chemically injured. We receive no government funding and are supported primarily by membership donations. An expanded fully referenced version of this speech will be submitted for publication.

On behalf of the chemically injured and those with MCS, thank you for allowing our voice to be heard, and thank you for your consideration.

Jim Duehring
240 Foster Creek Dr.
Marquette, MI 49855
Cindy Duehring died in 1999.