That New Car Smell

Appeared in

  • San Fernando Valley Sierra Club newsletter, May-June, 2006 & July 2009

So You Like that “New Car Smell?” Think again.
(#10 of the Plastic Plague Series)
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

toxicatanyspeedYour car’s interior is a major source of exposure to two classes of toxic chemicals, according to a first-of-its-kind report from the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Titled Toxic At Any Speed, the study measured levels of PBDEs (flame retardants) and phthalates (used to soften plastics) in both interior car dust and windshield film samples from cars made by 11 leading auto manufacturers.

These chemicals exude from seat covers, instrument panels, floor coverings and other plastic parts. Studies in lab animals have linked exposure to a variety of health effects, including neuro-developmental damage, liver toxicity, endocrine hormone disruption, premature birth and learning impairments. Levels of these toxins were as much as 5-10 times higher than found in homes and offices. With Americans averaging over 100 minutes per day in their cars, it makes you stop and think.

The good news is that safer alternatives are available and taking hold in Japan and Europe. A few American auto manufacturers may be getting on board as well.  For now, you can take action to protect your family by keeping your car well-ventilated and by parking in the shade since heat and UV light promote higher levels of toxins.

To participate in a California-based statewide plastics reduction campaign, contact Earth Resource Foundation or call (949) 645-5163.

2 Responses to That New Car Smell

  1. 12bgreen says:

    This was great information. I’m surprised these very common house plants (like, you can get them all at Lowe’s) are so great. I noted the density required to get the best filtration. Probably more plants than most people have, but very do-able if one wants to have clean air inside. This would be great information for people with respiratory problems, or really any chronic health impairment.

    • Shirley – Your comment about the possible role of indoor plants in helping people with respiratory ailments is very interesting. I will see if this concept is even on the radar screen of the medical community.

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