Book Review, Chemical Sensitivity ...

Chemical Sensitivity, The Truth [ NOT!] About Environmental Illness
by Ronald E. Gots, M.D. and Stephen Barrett, M.D.
Prometheus Books, publ: 1998

While this book amounts to another round of "Bash the Environmental Medicine Field," it is useful for people with MCS and several other syndrome conditions to be aware of it because it does document where much of the psychiatric literature and the "guilty unless proven innocent" mindsets exhibited by so many psychiatric professionals - to say nothing of a lot of the public perceptions about these health conditions - come from. In addition, this book is an excellent compilation of the many resources that can be used to oppose someone seeking medical support or benefits.

This book purports to expose the "truth" about all of the following syndrome health conditions - Candidiasis Hypersensitivity, Diet and Hyperactivity, Gulf War Syndrome, Mercury Amalgam Toxicity, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), and Sick Building Syndrome. This review will cover the attack on MCS and you will get the flavor for the rest of the book.

Typical of the authors' attack on MCS is their discussion of Dr. Rea and the American Environmental Health Foundation in Dallas, Texas. The authors say -

The authors also dismiss Dr. Rea's 4-volume set of books, "Chemical Sensitivity, Principles and Mechanisms." simply because it weighs 13.4 pounds!

This book further claims that a booth challenge test or environmental test unit where the patient is exposed for 5 or 10 minutes to the claimed aggravant is appropriate for dealing with "claims of MCS." Environmental Medicine doctors have stated that this procedure is "medically unnecessary" and they say it has killed people. This book does not acknowledge this other side of the story.

The Chemical Injury Information Network (CIIN), an advocacy group for MCS, comes in for a lot of negative attention, such as a complaint that CIIN lists too many MCS symptoms (about 150). And the authors further denigrate CIIN because the organization says this is not a complete list!

However, this book does make a very remarkable admission. After spending a lot of time citing studies where small samples of one or two patients were invariably determined to have everything but a sensitivity, the book refers to one study where, after testing more than one hundred patients, it was admitted that "people do exist who are very sensitive to various micro-organisms, noxious chemicals, and common foods." But this was explained away with the statement that "there is no scientific evidence that an immunologic basis exists for such a symptom pattern"!

Amazon.Com comments

Some comments from the online bookstore reviews from visitors to the site about this book are pertinent -


A few words about the authors are in order -

Dr. Gots is director of The Environmental Sensitivities Research Institute (ESRI), and is involved with the Medical Advisory Group, which provides expert witnesses to defend chemical corporations in tort lawsuits.

See a detailed biography of Dr. Gots for more information about him.

Dr. Barrett is a retired psychiatrist who resides in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and prides himself on being a "quackbuster" - see his Quackwatch web site. He is a medical editor of Prometheus Books (the publisher of this book), runs Nutri-Watch. He has published or co-authored over 40 books that emphasized exposing fads, fallacies and quackery.

See "What's Eating Stephen Barrett" for an interesting analysis of his views.


Back when chemical sensitivities were first being documented in the late 1800's, the level of medical understanding was such that the psychological causes were assumed to be the culprit, since many doctors somewhat understandably believed that the human body could not react to low concentrations of chemicals.

However, running to the media and publishing inflammatory books that discard inconvenient data, and repeat as fact the social perceptions and the honest ignorances of the 19th century as medical facts for the 21st century only promise that another 100 years will elapse before MCS and several other syndrome conditions are medically and/or socially accepted.

While much remains unknown, mechanisms which explain some aspects of the MCS puzzle - and consequent therapies that have helped patients - have been available for some time. Some of those are advocated by Dr. Rea's American Environmental Health Foundation, which reports that it has helped some 30,000 (!) MCS sufferers from around the world. It is time for the entire psychiatric profession to rein in its loose cannons and work with - and truly try to help - people with various syndrome health conditions, including MCS.

Reviewed by E. Stiltner
Copyright (©) 2000

Who, after reading this book, considers himself most lucky to have survived too many years of treatments along the line of - "You are depressed and WE need to fix those negative feelings about smokers!"

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