Environmental illness is an increasingly frequent and medically
unexplained syndrome of "allergy" to common environmental agents. A recent
outbreak of chemical-induced illness allowed study of psychological factors
in environmental illness. Thirty-seven symptomatic plastics workers
completed structured diagnostic interviews and self-report measures of
somatization and psychopathology. The 13 subjects who developed
environmental illness scored higher on all measures than those who did not.
The greatest differences were in prior history of anxiety or depressive
disorder (54% versus 4%) and number of medically unexplained physical
symptoms before exposure (6.2 versus 2.9). These findings suggest that
psychological vulnerability strongly influences chemical sensitivity
following chemical exposure.