Activist pushes for scent-free buildings

An environmental activist is asking Coquitlam to adopt a scent-free policy in municipal buildings - tri-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO
An environmental activist is asking Coquitlam to adopt a scent-free policy in municipal buildings
— image credit: tri-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO

An Anmore environmental activist with a chemical sensitivity to fragrances wants the city of Coquitlam to post signs at municipal buildings asking employees and patrons to go scent free.

This week, Elaine Willis told council-in-committee she was speaking on behalf of the city's universal access-ability advisory committee, of which she is a member.

In June 2011, that group recommended to council that the city adopt a corporate anti-scent policy but council voted the motion down because Coquitlam already has an internal policy to handle complaints.

Coun. Brent Asmundson, the new chair of the universal committee, said Thursday the committee has made no new recommendation since then and Willis was speaking as an individual; still, he said he would be open to discussing the matter further.

Many local organizations — including Metro Vancouver, CUPE BC, Coquitlam Teachers' Association and the village of Anmore — have embraced fragrance-free practices for their facilities or meetings out of courtesy to people with an aversion to scents.

People with sensitivities often suffer from headaches and other neurological symptoms that can be disabling. Willis said she lost her teaching job because of her sense sensitivity and she had a stroke at Eagle Ridge Hospital because of a toxic fragrance.

"Thirty per cent of the population is extremely bothered by fragrance and perfume," Willis told Coquitlam's council-in-committee Monday, adding, "This is a worldwide issue."

Mayor Richard Stewart said Panorama Heights elementary school, where his wife teaches, has been declared a scent-free school because of an instructor's medical condition. Scent-free workplaces are "an issue that I think is evolving," he said, much like smoking in public places.

Willis said she plans to lobby Port Coquitlam and Port Moody councils to adopt scent-free policies.

"I think change works through education and tenacity," she told The Tri-City News.

While PoMo doesn't have a formal scent-free policy, it has developed some educational signs for its civic front counters, spokesperson Leslyn Johnson said. (A PoCo official didn't respond to a request for comment).

As for School District 43, spokesperson Cheryl Quinton said it only has guidelines at this time.

"The difficulty with policy is that this topic is something that is hard to police," she said. "We are a public office and what do you do when a client comes in and is scented? It is like the impossibility of declaring a site peanut-free — you cannot be sure that there is no residual product on someone’s hands.

"With staff, it is more a case of education and understanding the need to comply," Quinton said.


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