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New Car Smell Symptom of Bad Air Quality

Saturday, February 18, 2012

SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS.COM, February 17, 2012

image Besides making fuel efficient cars and using leading clean manufacturing processes, Honda and Toyota have something else to crow about: the Honda Civic, Honda CR-Z and Toyota Prius have the highest indoor air quality in the industry.

Car interiors are filled with a host of toxic chemicals that off-gas from parts such as the steering wheel, dashboard, armrests and seats. We experience these chemicals as that “new car smell” but they cause a variety of acute and long-term health issues.

Since the average American spends more than 1.5 hours in the confined space of a car every day, toxic chemical exposure inside vehicles are a major source of indoor air pollution.

The Ecology Center released its fourth consumer guide to toxic chemicals in cars after testing 200 of the most popular 2011- and 2012-model vehicles for chemicals: bromine (associated with Brominated Flame Retardants); chlorine (indicating the presence of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC and plasticizers); lead; and heavy
metals.

These chemicals have been linked to a wide range of health problems such as allergies, birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, and cancer. Automobiles are particularly harsh environments for plastics, as extreme air temperatures of 192°F and dash temperatures up to 248°F can increase the concentration of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) and
break other chemicals down into more toxic substances.

“Since these chemicals are not regulated, people have no way of knowing the dangers they face. Our testing is intended to expose these dangers and encourage manufacturers to use safer
alternatives,” says Jeff Gearhart, Research Director at the Ecology
Center.

The Good News

The good news is overall vehicle ratings are improving. The best vehicles today have eliminated hazardous flame retardants and PVC. Today, 17% of new vehicles have PVC-free interiors and 60% are produced without BFRs.

The Honda Civic, which leads the industry, is free of bromine-based flame retardants, has PVC-free interior fabrics and interior trim; and has low levels of heavy metals and other metal allergens.

Honda says it voluntarily reports on the steps they’re taking to reduce and eliminate chemicals in its annual North American Environmental Report.

The Mitsubishi Outlander, which got the lowest scores, contains bromine and antimony-based flame retardants in the seating and center console; chromium treated leather on several components; and over 400 ppm lead in seating materials. [Read rest of story]

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