A few facts:
- Nearly 1.3 million people die in collisions a year, on average 3,287 deaths a day.
- 20-50 million of people are injured or disabled in car accidents.
- More than half of all road deaths occur among young adult ages 15-44.
- Traffic crashes rank as the 9th leading cause of death and accounts for 2.2% of all deaths globally.
- In 2015, 10,265 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for 29% of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.
But you already knew all of this, right?
Bet you didn’t know that the new car smell you love so much may put you, your children, and your pets in danger.
According to Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center, “research shows that vehicle interiors contain a unique cocktail of hundreds of toxic chemicals in small, confined spaces.” The study tested more than 200 of the most popular automobiles from 2011-2012 for chemicals that off-gas (release chemical vapors) from interior car parts like the steering wheel, dashboard, armrests, and seats. Heat from a vehicle can worsen effects and speed up a chemical reaction. Researchers and scientists at the Ecology Centers assigned a vehicle rating according to the number of chemicals they found.
Researchers found more than 275 different chemicals in car interiors such as brominated flame retardants (BFRs) which are added to plastics to make them less flammable, chlorine used for polyvinyl chloride (PVC) used for plastics and windshields, lead, and heavy metals. BFR exposure, in particular, has been tied to thyroid problems, learning and memory impairment, infertility, and behavioral changes. PVCs contain phthalates which are also linked to infertility as well as liver, testes, thyroid, kidney and blood issues, and even cancer. Automobile manufacturers say that PVC use has declined, and Honda claims they have eliminated it entirely from interiors of most models.
Experts say that the best thing that new car buyers can do to limit dangerous exposure from new car smell is to keep interiors well ventilated, especially during the first six months of ownership. It’s advisable to park in the shade with the windows open in areas where it’s safe to do so or try to air your car out before getting inside, especially on hot days. Cleaning your car with a microfiber towel and non-toxic cleaner, especially when a vehicle is new, helps because “chemicals like to hang out in the dust,” according to Gearhart.
Overall, cars have improved from when they first began testing in 2006. Automakers including Fiat/Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, and Honda stated that they had taken steps to reduce the substances of concern by using different materials, coatings, and adhesives in manufacturing. They all added that they are continuing to look for ways to reduce the use of potentially harmful substances in their automobiles. Ford, for example, has switched to more natural fibers and soy-based foam in seat cushions which accomplishes two significant things: reducing chemicals while increasing the use of renewable resources. However, the effects of some of these alternate materials are still unknown.