Allergist/immunologist Claudia Miller has proposed that, once individuals reach a threshold of total “body burden,” they are susceptible to TILT (Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance) thereby reacting to small amounts of previously tolerated chemicals. Diagnosis of MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) for TILT-ed individuals is more common among white populations, suggesting a disparity in treatment among minorities. The educational and activist aims of these postcards, commissioned by the Chemical Entanglements Project at UCLA’s Center for the Study of Women, includes acknowledging people of color who have been at the forefront of environmental justice efforts. All three images created by disability artist Peggy Munson (who herself has MCS) feature individuals with masks over the faces. One card features an Asian woman resting at an abandoned gas station repurposed as a beauty salon, to draw the connection between toxic ingredients in many salon products and their petroleum rootstocks. Another image shows an African American woman and her dog as they debark from a camper with a label “SAFE” scrawled on its rear. This card acknowledges the difficulty for those with MCS to find safe housing because of off-gassing chemicals in building materials. The third postcard presents a woman wearing a respirator, her arms around an African American gender non-binary individual--an image of mutual alliance and support. Each postcard has a set of check-boxes that evoke the medical questionnaires given to patients. Here, the sender of the postcard would put an “x” in a box linked to phrases such as “My symptoms grow urgent around scented detergent,” and “Modern people have the vapors from chemical capers” that serve as messages warning that access for those with MCS runs inversely to the distribution of accessory fragrances by chemical manufacturers.
We present this visualization because:
By commissioning art from someone in the Multiple Chemical Sensitivity/ Environmental Illness community, we hoped to make insider knowledge available to a wider public.
It represents our naiveté around what constituted the “low hanging fruit” in explaining the under-regulation of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) to a wider public. The sources of EDCs are myriad. We thought it surprising, and little known, that EDCs comprise common cosmetics, toiletries and household cleaners whose scents are advertised to odor-fearing consumers. We mistakenly assumed that the general population would only need to be made aware of the potential hazards in “fragranced” products. However, these images struck many as more offensive than informative.
Munson, Peggy; Lee, Rachel; Apolloni, Alexandra. 2018. “Created Image: Incorporating POC into Canary Activism.” In Canary Narratives: Visualizing Gender, Chronic Illness, and Exposure, created by Rachel Lee, Alexandra Apolloni, Molly Bloom, and Mehar Maju. In Visualizing Toxic Subjects Digital Exhibit, curated by James Adams and Kim Fortun. The Center for Ethnography. March.