Fragrance Free School Policies

As most of my readers know, I completed my Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing at Victoria University (VU) in 2014. (I’m going back in 2017 to begin the swiss-army-knife of all degrees, An Arts Degree!) There is no Fragrance Free Policy in place at this time as far as I know. However, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before there is one protecting those of us who suffer respiratory issues with chemical irritants from fragrance, aerosols and solvents.

But for now, VU does a great job at including those of us who have allergies and sensitivities.

I’ve heard feedback from other students at VU who have said how pleasant it is to be able to learn in an environment where there is clean air; and I’ve heard from students and staff who have milder allergies to perfumes (and skin conditions that get inflamed from aerosol solvents in the air) but have not wanted to speak up, and these kind people have thanked me for doing so, which is so lovely to hear! (Whew! I was starting to feel like a troublemaker there, just for a second.) Trust me, if I didn’t suffer the symptoms that I do, I wouldn’t bother registering with Victoria University Disability Services (VUDS) and working out an ‘Access Plan [yes, I promised I would post information this, and I will as soon as I can]’ so that I can go to classes, sit tests and access my work and materials the same as other students: if I didn’t have this medical condition, I’d just go to class like everyone else. 


Below is a list of Schools, Colleges, and Universities that do have them in place. These are all in the US and Canada, which is where some staff at VU sourced information helping me get through classes. Hopefully, my learning place of choice, my beloved Victoria University in Australia, will be on this list one day. Until then, I’ll just be grateful for the accomodations they do make for students such as myself; and, totally!, be grateful for the ‘No ‘Smoking on Campus’ policies that are being implemented in all Australian Universities. 

The following list is from Dr Anne Steinemann. You can find out about other institutions who also have fragrance free polices in place here.

Schools, Colleges, and Universities
Portland State University, Portland, OR 

Minnesota Schools H.F. No. 2148, as introduced – 85th Legislative Session (2007-2008) Fragrance Free Schools Pilot, Minnesota House of Representatives 

North Seattle Community College, Seattle, WA 

Bastr University, Kenmore, WA 

Challenge Charter School, Glendale, AZ 

Arthouse Preschool, Waunakee, WI 

Cecil College, North East, MD

The Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA

McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada 

Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, NS, Canada

New Brunswick Board of Education, School District 8, Saint John, NB, Canada

University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada


Dr Anne Seinemann’s Resources

Going to School with MCS in Australia: Imagine How This Feels

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

Now, Imagine How This Feels…

(This is a repost from 3 December 2013)

Imagine that it’s Tuesday, the one day a week where I am lucky enough to attend an Advanced Nonfiction class at Victoria University (VU), and I’m psyched! I don’t have to worry about air-borne fragrances or solvent-based particles from spray deodorants or solvent-fragrance based hairsprays contaminating the classroom air. I don’t have to worry about having to leave the class due to symptoms bought on by breathing in fragrances that other students may have used. I don’t have to worry about the molecules of these toxins sticking to my hair and clothes, making me sicker later on. And I don’t have to worry about sitting in class while wearing my mask and not even knowing if there are solvent or fragrance chemicals emitting from other students into the air of the room (My sense of smell is virtually blindfolded by the 3M mask that I sometimes have to wear to protect my health… If it wasn’t impeding on the ability of my olfactory sense, then sure, I’d be able to breathe it in and smell it, thus warning myself, but not before getting chronically ill. Sometimes for days.).

(Just so we are clear, you know it’s breathing in these chemicals that cause symptoms, not the actual ‘smell’, yes? Of course you do! Silly me for even asking that. Next time, I’ll ask it rhetorically.)

Imagine being chemically sensitive to solvents, fragrance chemicals and the petrochemicals used as ingredients during the manufacture of designer fragrances, the el-cheapo imitations, and in popular deodorants (like Lynx, and Mum), and  getting to go into class each week, safe in the knowledge that (retrospectively) 94% of the time)) people will have made the effort to go free of these products? (Sure the air may smell of scents, due to shampoos, conditioners and roll-on deodorants; and it may even be floating with notes of patchouli and jasmine from products containing essential oils because in our requests to get people to go fragrance free it has been explicitly expressed that it’s preferable for them to use products that contain natural ingredients. I know this is not an ideal situation for some chemically sensitive people but for me, it totally was! An essential oil could never impact on my health in the same way as a spray on fragrance does.)

Imagine that there is a notice in the Student Handbook explaining that some students are sensitive to chemicals and that there are some classes where people will be reminded to be ‘mindful’ of certain chemical-based products.

Imagine the teacher sending out an email the day before to remind the rest of the class to consider my need to breathe air unhindered? Sure, I could wear my mask for the whole class but as many chemically sensitive and immune compromised people know, there are a few problems with this: firstly, the lack of oxygen is not conducive to learning, thinking or contributing to discussion; secondly, there is the limited ability to show facial expressions, therefore, causing a hindrance in communication (not for everyone, a few people, mostly teachers, see past the mask and talk to me as if I am the same as everyone else); thirdly, and most importantly, it can be dangerous in that if there is a lot of fragrance in the room, it then gets on my hair, skin and clothes, and sometimes into the tear ducts of my eyes, but additional to that, if I sit in the room for the whole class, then leave and remove my mask, I become chronically ill due to solvents, petrochemicals and fragrance chemicals being all over me and in my airways. And lastly, what some of you may not know, and I’ve only just recently found this out from the Disability Discrimination Legal Service (DDLS) myself, is that wearing the mask is actually a forced impediment! I have a right to go to class and not wear a mask, just like everyone else. That’s on top of the law that states that it’s Indirect Discrimination to not be able to access the class (or any other area where people have equal access) due to air-borne fragrances.

Imagine the cleaning staff changing to using fragrance free products in the buildings that I use. (Perfume-free Library room and building 10.) And that they are doing this with the intention to change to using fragrance free products in the rest of the university when the other products run out. (Their theory behind this: the chance of fragrance free products impacting on other students health is almost none, the chance of fragrance chemicals impacting on more students health is higher.

Imagine they do the same with the hand soap in the toilets. (You see even if a student comes to school fragrance free, they won’t stay that way if they wash their hands in the bathroom unless the soap they use is fragrance free.)

(Note: Staff at VU have worked every corner of the boxing ring to accommodate and include me in the classes and lectures; and I’ve never had to use the ‘discrimination’ card to force them to fit me in. (I do know that they’ve injected the word ‘discrimination’ right into the main vein of bureaucracy via communications between various departments. All in the name of making shit happen! It’s like they know that I belong there. I really feel like that! Okay, there was this one teacher… but I’m not going to go there, today. This post is about being thankful!)

Imagine how I felt as I went to class, attending to my studies just like everyone else? At times I felt a tad guilty about the trouble people were going too. But do you know what I found? That speaking out about fragrance chemicals and their effects, gives others permission to do the same. No one wants to be a troublemaker. No one wants to complain—or seem to be complaining—about what products people use. No one wants to be seen to be different (for the wrong reasons).

Towards the middle of the last semester, a text went out asking people to be mindful about all staff and students who suffer health problems from these products. And it said that all classes are fragrance free!

I’ve already expressed how much I feel like I belong in this particular learning institution. So much, that I feel as if my experience and my illness have taught others; but more even more so, it’s taught me that that anxiety I feel in the pit of my stomach right before I speak up about the ‘fragrance issue’, that anxiety is a tool. A tool that I can tap into to help facilitate a positive outcome—for me, and/or for others. It could also be a tool that I use to run, hide, squirrel myself into isolation. But no, I use this ‘anxiety’ to spur me on…

Imagine going to class each week and finding that that anxiety has faded into the background. Sometimes mildly humming  back there, ready to remind me to remind people of the boundaries. Imagine it just hangs out on the peripheral of my attention, letting me focus on my studies, 100 percent.

Imagine going to class each week and finding—knowing that there is an air-purifier in the room that a teacher or security staff member has kindly, turned on an hour previously. Imagine that Victoria University Disability Services (VUDS) decide to put the air-purifier onto a timer, just to make sure it goes on at the right time.

Blue Air Purifier Supplied by Victoria University Disability Services (VUDS) for students who are sensitive and allergic to chemical irritants that are in fragrances and spray on deodorants

Blue Air Purifier Supplied by VUDS

Now, imagine they put a sign on the classroom door, reminding others that the room is fragrance free and that toxic chemicals contained in personal care products can and do cause and exacerbate symptoms in people who have asthma, chemical sensitivities and those who have immune disorders, and to please refrain from wearing them? Imagine they source that sign themselves, via the Allergy, Environmental Sensitivity and Support Research Association (AESSRA) website, printing and laminating it, placing it up around the building: in the main office and the two low-toxic classrooms.

The sign on this Victoria University Classroom door says: "Thank you for not wearing fragrance." And and other sign on the door says: "Please keep door closed at all times. (Noteworthy: people need two signs to be able to notice that there is a sign on the door!)

The Classroom Door with Signs Attached Alerting People to the Fragrance Irritants and Student Health.

Imagine that the Professional Writing and Editing Coordinator, along with my help, drafts up a bullet point list of reasons why students could refrain from wearing certain products; what happens to me if I breathe them in (in the short term) and what happens to me if I breathe them in (over the long term); what they could use instead; and of what benefit it would be to them and others if they could do that.

Imagine how validating that would feel…

Imagine VUDs loans out an iPad to me so that I can minimise my exposure to breathing in petrochemicals from the inks in books and on pages. Imagine the possibilities for utilising this as a learning tool? I can take photos of the notes on the board. And I can use it to photograph documents like class room handouts. This way I don’t have to air them later; or curse when the wind blows them away or they get rained on while out airing. OMG, and the books! And the newspapers I can read on it!!!

Imagine one of my amazing teachers goes to the trouble of putting printed material behind plastic for me?

I know, it’s probably a dream, yes?

No, it’s reality.

(And can I just point out that lately my health has been impacted less by printed ink? It’s been a few months since I opened the mail, breathing in ink fumes that are so toxic to my system that just the exposure to the petrochemicals wipes me out for the rest of the day. I still air my mail. Still take precautions. But I’m not suffering such intense symptoms with printed material. (Glossy magazines. Not so lucky. Massive headaches. Small steps, small steps… I’ll get out of here!)

Now, imagine that it’s the end of the last Semester and that I’m two subjects away from owning my Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing. Owning. My. Diploma. Me? Imagine the buzz radiating within. How awesome would that be?

Access to Goods and Services with MCS in Australia

Winter time, heating is on and I’m doing fine. I can even pop into the office where staff are fragrance-free

Now imagine that the weekly email that goes out to the students before classes no longer asks people to remember to accommodate me, Michellina van Loder. No, it asks that students please refrain from wearing chemicals so VU can accommodate all the students who suffer with this problem…

Imagine that all the anxiety and fear that’s been eating away at me as I collaborate with people to get my needs met, imagine it’s all been worth it. Imagine that it gave others permission to speak up. Others who suffer asthma, headaches, allergies and many conditions that flare when the person is forced to breathe in fragrance chemicals for hours on end.

Imagine this, my reality…

You see for me, this is a really lucky thing, for I don’t have a great support network of friends and family who will go fragrance free for me. Some will go without it for a visit or two. But these people are never really fragrance free because using fragrance is a daily thing for them. The scent is on every piece of clothing or furniture they own, so although it may give me only a slight headache being with them for a few hours, it’s not a pleasant experience. I guess theirs an element of respect, disrespect rather, that I try not to take personally. But alas… It’s in their cars. It’s everywhere, so even when they try their version of going fragrance, aftershave, perfume, scented-face cream, hair-gel free (they don’t use XYZ for a day), it’s still a problem.

I’m grateful for the few who don’t wear it, won’t wear it throughout their day to day lives.

So this sense of belonging I feel when it comes to attending classes and being a part of VU, it’s an important and valid part of my identity: a student, a writer, a poet, a professional blogger. It’s all wrapped up, right there!

Fragrance is the opposite of a social lubricant; it’s an emollient that rusts away, seizing up all working parts until things are just fucked. And each time you have a discussion with someone who doesn’t want to go without wearing fragrance, the talking—however gentle the persuasion is—causes friction over time. And that there, the resistance, is the rusty beginning of a solid relationship turning into a wasteland of broken hearts and hurt feelings.

But it’s really great that I have this, and I’m so grateful to the staff and students at VU who are up to speed on this issue. Now, we just need the rest of  Australia to catch up!



AESSRA’s ‘Thank You for Not Wearing Fragrance Sign that I used for my classes at Victoria University

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

Woman Quits School Due to Chemical Sensitivities

Kathryn Treat over at allergictolifemybattle has bought this newspaper article to my attention. It’s about a woman in London who has severe allergic reactions to mould, dust, pollen and other allergens (it seems most of the natural ones, as apposed, to mine being the human made ones). Her story is deeply saddening, and if I’d read this mid 2012 while going through the anxiety of wondering if I’d still be able to study and continue going to my beloved classes at Victoria University, I may have freaked out, realising I was doomed, while doubting that I could ever continue. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to be able to stay on my studiously gold paved path; and, I’ve almost completed my Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing. But, weirdly and wrongly, this is not the case for Kirsty Ashman.

More from NY Daily News:

‘After trying to study at two universities, Kirsty has been forced to give up her dream of becoming an English teacher.

Kirsty, from Haverhill, Suffolk, said: “I was desperate to get a degree and finish my studies, but I had to put my health first.

“My allergies grew so bad that I lived in fear of libraries and common rooms, as even a small inhalation of dust could bring on an asthma attack which would completely shut down my airways.’

I cannot imagine having to deal with a situation like this; well, I can and I have, but my issues were resolved (all while my health was at it’s worse).

You see, at Victoria University (VU), in the library, we have ‘The Adaptive Technology Room’, which is also doubles as a ‘Perfume Free Room‘; it’s set aside for students (not just me) who have sensitivities/allergies to the chemical irritants in perfumes, fragrances and (spray type) deodorants.

This room is my safe place. It’s a sure thing.

Especially, if I am not well. I know that I can go here, flop down in a chair next to the Blue Air Purifier (which runs all day, and has its carbon HEPA filter changed every six months–all like cliched clockwork!), and within an hour or so I, usually, start to feel better. Even if I don’t fully recover, I can sit in peace and quiet, focusing on my health and my studies. I’ve completed assignments in there, when not well. I’ve worked on class projects with other students, when well. And I’ve even (once) fallen asleep in there (until I felt well enough to drive home), when totally not well at all. Figuratively speaking, it’s literally like a bubble of fresh air hidden amongst clouds of perfume!

Last year, I even borrowed a book from there: Christos Tsiolkas’s, Jesus Man. It had that old book smell (old pages, well thumbed (thankfully not by fragrance wearer’s thumbs)), as opposed to the new book smell (petrochemical inks). That was my milestone for the year, borrowing a real book that didn’t make me ill (It’s not the smell; it’s the chemicals emitted. You need to know that.). Excitingly, I even told my teacher about it; I thanked her for helping me avoid petrochemicals by placing my worksheets behind plastic; because that kind act, and the one I do for myself where I use my iPad to take photos of documents, rather than trying to air them out at home, surely has helped me avoid exposure to petrochemicals. (Note: I don’t walk between the shelves of books. If I want a book, I ask one of the librarians to get it for me; and if I’m feeling particularly brave and assertive, I ask them if they’d mind sniffing it to see if smells of fragrance (In some situations, when asking people to sniff things, I get weird looks, questions, and perplexing reactions, but not here, in this library!). If it does have fragrance on it, I don’t even bother with the book. I’m proactive about my approach. I wear a mask, and I try to use logic, critical thinking, and my gut instinct, rather than relying on my sense of smell. Sniffing things means possibly breathing in chemicals that can make me sick. That’s why I often ask others, “Hey, does this smell of perfume…?”)

Kirsty’s immunological problems are the opposite to mine:

‘In two years at university Kirsty suffered over fifteen life-threatening asthma attacks brought on by various dust, grass, pollens, animals and mold.

Kirsty said: “The toilets and the canteen were always dangerous because the cleaning products could bring on an attack and mean another visit to hospital.”

Kirsty suffered hay fever as a child but her more severe symptoms began at the age of 18 when a chest infection heightened her allergic reactions.

She said: “It’s really hard, I have to battle so much just to achieve normal things.’

Well, yeh, I get it with the cleaning products. But why not ask the school to consider changing to fragrance free products? The leverage for them to do this? The chances of other people having physical reactions to fragrance cleaning chemicals are high; the chances of other people having the same happen with low-toxic products are extremely low.) However, I, too, avoid the canteen as much as I can. When there were evening classes, it was okay to go in there, but during the day, it’s a nightmare. And, I’m much better off bringing my own coffee and lunch, anyway.

As for the books, if I had to use something that a person wearing spray-type fragrance had just touched, I could be sick for days. The same with printed worksheets that are fresh off the printer; these cause my eyes, nose lining and airways to become inflamed; and if I don’t avoid them, it just gets worse. This issue has been solved by using an iPad. I photograph worksheets so I can read them immediately; and I download books so I can read them, not having to air them. And the iPad also has the advantage of letting me add them to the class notes on my computer. For some classes we use Dropbox. This enables students to swap documents, teachers to drop work in, and me to submit my assignments, all without touching or breathing in any ink fumes. (Otherwise we just whack them in plastic covers. Simple, once you get the hang of it. Just don’t go leaving them in a hot car!)

Disadvantageously, Kirsty has not been so lucky:

“One day I was studying, I’d got my friends to get the books off the shelves in the library as that is normally a danger area for me.

“As I got the book out of my bag and opened it, it must have wafted a cloud of dust into my face because I felt my airways closing and was struggling to breathe.

“It was a terrible reaction and I ended up back in the hospital.”

I blame her school; well, not the actual school, but the lack of awareness at the school. Kirsty’s not the only one reacting to allergens and chemicals (Dust absorbs chemical Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCS), and it’s the perfect food (cellulose) for mould to adhere to: vacuuming a high traffic area is of the uppermost importance for everyone’s health.); she’s just the only one physically reacting to these things at this level. I’m sure there are other people who get blocked sinuses, mild to severe headaches, and other symptoms but they just don’t say anything because they don’t want to be a bother!

Most of the things that make attending VU successful for me, were thought up and implemented by Victoria University Disability (VUDS) Staff. Never would I have thought to ask the school to lend me an brand new iPad. Are you kidding? But when I was offered one, I had no idea just how easy it would make studying. Here, before the iPad, I posted about how I had to air my books before use. It was just something I had to do. (Second hand books with mould, smoke or fragrance would have faded away to an unreadable quality before ever airing out!) This article has made me feel even more grateful for the experience that I’ve had at my learning institution. But it’s many things together that make it possible for me to get this education that I live and breathe:

  • A Blueair High-efficiency particulate absorption (HEPA) air-filter in the class
  • A HEPA air-fitler in the library’s perfume free study room
  • The HEPA inner filters are changed every six months
  • Students and staff who go fragrance free—not just for me but also the increasing amount of other students whose health are impacted on via fragrance chemicals (and, as some have pointed out, their own health too!)
  • Teachers who help me avoid breathing in and having contact with petrochemical based inks
  • Library staff who help me find online sources of reading material
  • Amazingly compassionate disability officers
  • Signs, pamphlets, documents, and a brief note in the Student Handbook about students who have chemical allergies/sensitivities, and what we all need to do to help accommodate them
  • Fragrance free hand soap in some of the toilets (hopefully, it will be all of them soon)
  • The fact that I wear a mask when I know that I’m going to be in ‘high-density’ exposure areas
  • Strategies that help me to know if an area is safe for me to stay in (I’ll elaborate more on this in another post soon)

I urge all students to ask for the accommodations that they need. It’s not a selfish act. Rather, it’s almost selfless; in that, although it can be anxiety producing to ask for help, by pushing through this, people will be paving the way for others who are in the same eczema-producing/petrochemical-outgassing shoes!

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

Information, products and views presented by guest bloggers @The Labyrinth are not necessarily the same as those held by this blog's author, Michellina van Loder. Reviews are my own personal opinions (unless stated otherwise); and satire is used throughout personal posts. Any health topics discussed are not to be taken as medical advice. Seek out medical attention if needed and do your own research; however, you're welcome to use mine as a start.
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