Chemicals in New Cars: Can They Harm You?

Ahh, that new car smell! What you may not realize is that the unique aroma is often made up of toxic fumes that could make you ill. Cars may be greener these days when it comes to mileage, but not all of them are green inside.

Just What Is In Your Car?

The number of chemicals that go into producing a vehicle, with all its various parts made from metal, glass, plastic, and fibers, may not surprise you. But what is surprising is how many of those chemicals stick around after the car is ready to be sold.

New Car SmellAs the first owner, you’ll be subjected to a number of toxins.

Bromine: This fire retardant has been proved to build up in human bodies. It is thought to cause issues with fetal brain development and can affect thyroid function. It may also cause reproductive issues and birth defects. It is also considered a possible carcinogen.

Bromine is found in the carpet in many cars, along with the seat covers and the plastics used in the console. In other words, it is used throughout the vehicle, causing prolonged exposure.

Lead: Who hasn’t heard about the dangers of lead? You may not have thought it would be an issue in your car, though. Studies have shown there are no safe levels of lead for children, in whom it can cause problems with brain development, as well as learning issues. It has also been linked to kidney tumors in lab rats.

Lead can be found in door trim, carpets, and seat covers in many new cars. While it may not be an obvious exposure, when no level is safe, you really don’t want this heavy metal anywhere near your family.

Antimony: This chemical still isn’t proved to cause damage in humans, but lab animals show fertility problems, hair loss, lung cancer, and heart problems – among other issues – when exposed to antimony. It’s considered a possible human carcinogen, as well.

You will find this chemical in polyester fabrics, so the headliner, seat covers, and even the arm rests of your vehicle could contain antimony.

Chlorine/PVC: Workers in factories where PVC is used are at higher risk for developing cancer, but the real danger for those who use the finished products are phthalates, additives that make the PVC more flexible and usable. These chemicals can get into the human system via skin exposure and inhalation, and have been linked to birth defects, higher cancer risks, and kidney or liver damage.

The gearshift is just one part of the car that uses PVC. Since this substance can be transferred through touch, it can be quite pervasive.

How You’re Exposed

The biggest issue with the various toxic chemicals found in new cars is the fact that anyone entering the car is breathing these toxins into their lungs. The average levels found in vehicle can increase upon exposure to heat and UV rays, making them even more toxic in some cases.

The average American spends approximately two hours a day inside a vehicle. Adults are sensitive enough, but children, with their still-developing systems, are even more at risk for the indoor pollution that vehicles, particularly new ones, can contain.

Healthier Vehicles Are on The Way

As more and more people become aware of the dangers of the chemicals in new vehicles, car manufacturers are starting to look for healthier alternatives. The 2008 Ford Mustang, for example, switched chemical-ridden seat cushions for soy-based foam. The Ford Escape and Escape Hybrid also use recycled fabric for their seat covers, reducing the amount of toxins found in the seats.

Before you inhale that new car odor, consider what might be causing it, and let your car air out a bit. Even better? Opt for a vehicle that has been designed with the reduction of toxins in mind. They do exist, and with people becoming more aware, you should see an increase in healthier vehicles in the future.

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