Southwest woman pushes for perfume ban in schools

LINDEN HILLS – A Southwest woman fighting for a ban on perfumes in schools said she’s disappointed with amendments to a legislative bill that would have established a pilot ban in Minneapolis.

Julie Mellum has been leading a campaign to raise awareness about what she says are the health and environmental impacts from things like perfume, woodsmoke and scented laundry products.

She contacted legislators about banning the use of perfumes and other chemical fragrances in schools, which she said can trigger asthma episodes in children.

A bill introduced by Rep. Karen Clark (DFL-61A) and Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-60B) asked the state health commissioner to develop a fragrance-free schools pilot program. That language has been dropped from the bill, however.

Instead, the bill now calls for the state to work with a group of students, teachers and administrators in Minneapolis on an education campaign about “the potentially harmful effects” of fragrance products.

“I’m very disappointed,” Mellum said. “That’s like studying global warming to see if it’s actually happening to see if we should do something.”

Reps. Clark and Hornstein could not be reached for comment last week.

Mellum claims an extreme chemical sensitivity turned her life upside down about a decade ago, when she said her body started reacting strangely to even common chemicals.

She said she went into a respiratory arrest one day after being exposed to a scented candle. She thinks the chemicals in the air from the candle caused a burning pain in her lungs and abdomen, she said.

Today, she leaves her house with a surgical mask she thinks limits her exposure to chemicals. She said even trace exposure to common, everyday chemicals can trigger reactions.

“I had to completely retool my lifestyle,” Mellum said. “It’s very isolating.”

She’s spent much of her time in recent years researching her condition online and setting up a website of her own, www.takebacktheair.com. And she started lobbying legislators for a ban.

“I just became really aggressive. I’ve gotten angry about what I see happening to kids. I have energy, and I’m mad enough that I’m going to do something about it.”