Increased cardiopulmonary disease risk in a community-based sample with chemical odor intolerance: Implications for women’s health and health-care utilization

Carol M. Baldwin, Iris R. Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Chemical intolerance, or reported illness from odors of common environmental chemicals (e.g., car exhaust, pesticides), is emerging as an important environmental and public health-care issue. Epidemiologic methods provide relevant heuristic devices for studies of complex disorders, such as chemical intolerance. The authors examined personal and reported parental cardiopulmonary disease prevalence rates in a community sample of chemically intolerant and control individuals. A county government (Tucson, Arizona) employee and kin subset (N = 181; 113 households) completed standard health questionnaires. Investigators determined chemical intolerance (n = 41/181) from self-reports of individuals who felt “moderately” to “severely” ill from exposure to at least three of five chemicals (i.e., car exhaust, pesticides, paint, new carpet, and perfume) on a Chemical Odor Intolerance Index. The authors chose the control group (n = 57/181) on the basis of self-reports of “never” feeling ill on the Chemical Odor Intolerance Index. The chemically intolerant group, which primarily comprised women (78% versus 51 % of controls, p < .05), was significantly more likely to report—and to have sought—medical attention for heart problems, bronchitis, asthma, and pneumonia. Reports of heart problems in the chemically intolerant index cases and the occurrence of heart disease in both of their parents were significant (Fisher’s p < .05). The chemically intolerant individuals were also significantly more likely to report maternal histories of chest problems (e.g., inhalant allergens, tuberculosis) than controls. The findings of the study suggested that the chemically intolerant individuals (a preponderance of whom were women [sex-related risk]) were more likely to have (a) reported cardiopulmonary problems (i.e., greater health risk); (b) actively sought medical care for these problems (i.e., increased medical utilization); and (c) reported more parental illnesses—particularly heart disease, asthma, and diabetes (i.e., genetic risk). Additional community-based studies of chemical intolerance are needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)347-353
Number of pages7
JournalArchives of Environmental Health
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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