I can’t stand that “new car” smell. It’s not just because I assumed it was coming from the breakdown of toxic chemicals used to build the car. The smell makes my eyes tear and my nose burn. Plus, it always reminds me of my grandparent’s car, which was always stored in a garage and they never let us open the windows (it would let the air conditioning out…they lived in Florida at the time). I often would get carsick riding from the airport to their house. Yuck!
Well, now there’s evidence of the toxicity of that “new car” smell. The toxic chemicals, PBDE’s and phthalates are part of the smell, according to a first-of-it’s-kind study by the Ecology Center. They say, “Seat cushions, arm rests, floor coverings and plastic parts used in most car interiors are made with toxic chemicals known to pose major public health risks. PBDEs, used as fire retardants, and phthalates, used to soften PVC plastics, have been linked to birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, premature births, and early puberty in laboratory animals, among other serious health problems.” The study found a dangerous amount of these chemicals in dust and windshield samples. We’re exposed to them by inhaling and touching the dust. The outgassing is made worse by the car sitting in the sun. In fact, the study found that solar exposure raised the chemical breakdown by 5 times over the levels found in homes and offices.
What are the health effects of these chemicals?
“They’ve been linked to birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, premature births and early puberty in laboratory animals, among other serious health problems”, as indicated by the Ecocenter’s press release. Both of these chemicals are considered “chemicals of concern” and can be found everywhere, including in women’s breast milk.
Luckily there are safer alternatives to these chemicals and some car manufacturers are already using them. For example, Volvo was found to be the least toxic car (too bad I donated my old Volvo to a charity) with the lowest level of phthalates and the second lowest level of PBDE’s. Ford says they’ve removed the PBDE’s from “interior components that customers can come in contact with”. Honda said that they removed most of the phthalate containing Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) in their vehicles. The other manufacturers that were tested included: BMW, Chrysler, GM, Hyundai, Mercedes, Subaru, Toyota, and Volkswagen. I guess we can only assume that the others haven’t made much progress in this area yet. (I wrote this article a number of years ago, so things may have improved
What you can do:
· Get a solar reflector to reduce the heat that is generated in your car by the sun
· Ventilate your car whenever possible (when I got a new car I left the windows open as much as possible, especially in the warmer weather.)
· Try not to park in direct sunlight
· Get a car air purifier (they plug into the cigarette lighter spot)
©Amy Todisco. 2012. All Rights Reserved.