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New-car smell 'is bad for you'

2012-02-21 11:38

CAR INTERIORS ARE INTOXICATING: The mix of chemicals within a car interior may contribute to that "new car smell" but may also be harmful to occupants.

Enjoy that “new car smell”? A guide to toxic chemicals in cars claims to have identified car interiors as a major source of indoor pollution.

Results of a study by The Ecology Centre, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, suggest Honda and Toyota are the top performers while Mitsubishi, Kia and Chrysler are among the worst offenders.

More than 200 late-model cars were tested for gas-releasing chemicals from parts such as their steering wheels, fascia, armrests and seats for the fourth consumer guide to toxic chemicals in cars

The emitted gases contribute to the new-car smell and The Ecology Centre attributes a number of acute and long-term health concerns to them.


Jeff Gearhart, the centre's research director, said: "Vehicle interiors contain a unique cocktail of hundreds of toxic chemicals that off-gas in small, confined spaces. Since these chemicals are not regulated, people have no way of knowing the dangers they face.”

Among the chemicals are bromine, chlorine, lead and other heavy metals. Such chemicals have been linked to a wide range of health problems such as allergies, birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity and cancer, the Ecology Centre said.


The extreme air temperatures generated in a car's cabin by sunlight contribute to their levels of toxicity.

"Automobiles function as chemical reactors, creating one of the most hazardous environments in which we spend time," Gearhart added.

But the overall vehicle ratings are improving, the centre said: 17% of new vehicles have PVC-free interiors and 60% are produced without 40 brominated flame retardants – a wide range of chemicals added to materials to both inhibit their ignition and to slow their rate of combustion.

Ten best (including vehicles not sold in SA) by concentration of volatile organic compounds
2012 Honda Civic - 0.46 lb/gal
2011 Toyota Prius - 0.55 lb/gal
2011 Honda CR-Z - 0.63 lb/gal
2011 Nissan Cube - 0.65 lb/gal
2012 Acura RDX - 0.74 lb/gal
2012 Acura ZDX - 0.74 lb/gal
2012 Audi S5 - 0.74 lb/gal
2011 Smart coupe - 0.74 lb/gal
2011 Toyota Venza - 0.77 lb/gal
2011 Smart Passion - 0.79 lb/gal

Ten worst (including vehicles not sold in SA) by concentration of volatile organic compounds
2012 Mini Cooper S Clubman - 2.84 lb/gal
2012 Volkswagen Eos - 2.85 lb/gal
2011 Kia Sportage - 2.87 lb/gal
2011 Chevrolet Aveo - 2.89 lb/gal
2012 Hyundai Accent - 2.98 lb/gal
2011 Mazda CX-7 - 3.08 lb/gal
2011 Nissan Versa - 3.08 lb/gal
2011 Kia Soul - 3.11 lb/gal
2011 Chrysler 200 - 3.17 lb/gal
2011 Mitsubishi Outlander - 3.17 lb/gal

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