"New Car Smell" Sign of Toxic Chemicals

Posted Mar 29, 2007 by geozone

The much beloved smell of a new car may actually be a signal of the presence of harmful chemicals inside.
According to a report from Ecology Center, a U.S. environmental group, much of the smell of a new car comes from plastics and materials used in making everything from the steering wheel to the dashboard and carpets. Unfortunately, those materials often contain chemicals such as plasticizers and flame retardants which either release harmful gas or leach it into the environment.
Ecology Center took 200 new model cars and tested their interiors for toxic chemicals such as chlorine, bromine, lead and other heavy metals. When inhaled or ingested, these chemicals can severely impact health such as resulting in birth defects, cancer or learning disabilities.
Cars were rated according to how much of a risk they posed to health and environmental safety. Among those posing the most concern were the Chevrolet Aveo, Nissan Versa and Kia Rio, all of which were rated as a four on a scale of one to five. Those receiving a rating of least concern included the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Volvo V50 station wagon and Chevy Cobalt.
Ecology Center admitted their ratings are not an absolute measure of chemical exposure or health risk. But they added they found levels of toxic chemicals inside new cars at levels five to ten times that found in the average home or office.
According to Ernie Pokopchuk, a University of Winnipeg assistant professor of chemistry: "The nose is great at detecting small amounts of a chemical. If you can smell something, it's there." Some of the chemicals named in the Ecology Center's report can cause serious problems.
"They can be irritating, might be something as simple as making your eyes kind of red, feel like they're burning a little bit, irritation like that, or it can be as severe, with a high enough dosage, it can lead to health concerns, birth defects, cancers," he added.
Michael Rawluk works at a Volvo dealership in Winnipeg. He said that: "Safety is much more than that small probability [of] what if I get into a crash. It's [also] how does this car impact my health?"
The Ecology Center noted that interior auto parts do not have to be made with toxic chemicals. There are alternatives which are not harmful to human health. They hope their report will spur auto manufacturers to use safer alternatives in their products.
In fact, some companies have already recognized the problem and are addressing it. Volvo, for instance, is using nickel in the dashboards, keys and safety belt buckles in the interiors of their cars. It is also found in the chemicals used in their upholstery fabric and leather.
For those who own a car listed as "of concern" in the report, Ecology Center suggests using solar reflectors in the windshield. Heat and UV rays acts as a catalyst in the release of chemicals. They also recommend opening up the windows for a few minutes prior to driving off.
For a related article on toxic substances in everyday products we use in our lives, see gohomelaker's piece on Toxic Teflon.