To describe the prevalence and correlates of reports about sensitivities to chemicals, questions about chemical sensitivities were added to the 1995 California Behavior Risk Factor Survey (BRFS). The survey was administered by telephone to 4,046 subjects. Of all respondents, 253 (6.3%) reported doctor-diagnosed “environmental illness” or “multiple chemical sensitivity” (MCS) and 643 (15.9%) reported being “allergic or unusually sensitive to everyday chemicals.” Sensitivity to more than one type of chemical was described by 11.9% of the total sample population. Logistic regression models were constructed. Hispanic ethnicity was associated with physician-diagnosed MCS (adjusted odds ratio (OR) = 1.82, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.21–2.73). Female gender was associated with individual self-reports of sensitivity (adjusted OR = 1.63, 95% CI 1.23–2.17). Marital status, employment, education, geographic location, and income were not predictive of reported chemical sensitivities or reported doctor diagnosis. Surprising numbers of people believed they were sensitive to chemicals and made sick by common chemical exposures. The homogeneity of responses across race-ethnicity, geography, education, and marital status is compatible with a physiologic response or with widespread societal apprehensions in regard to chemical exposure. Am J Epidemiol 1999;150:1–12.

Author notes

Reprint requests to Dr. Richard Kreutzer, Department of Health Services, Environmental Health Investigations Branch, 1515 Clay Street, Suite 1700, Berkeley, CA 94612.