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New Study Ranks Car Interiors for Toxicity

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2011-2012 Best & Worst Picks Vehicles

Vehicles present dangers other than crash potential. Their interiors — especially those in new vehicles — pose health hazards. The Ecology Center has released its fourth consumer guide to toxic chemicals in cars. The nonprofit center’s study found the Honda Civic, Toyota Prius, and Honda CR-Z as having the least toxic interiors and the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Chrysler 200 SC, and Kia Soul with the most toxic ones.

To conduct the study, researchers at the nonprofit center tested more than 200 of the most popular 2011 and 2012 model vehicles for chemicals that off-gas from such parts as the steering wheel, dashboard, arm rests, and seats, and listed their rankings on The chemicals contribute to “new car smell” and can create many acute and long-term health problems, said Jeff Gearhart, research director at The Ecology Center.

According to a press release from The Ecology Center:

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

‘Research shows that vehicle interiors contain a unique cocktail of hundreds of toxic chemicals that off-gas in small, confined spaces,’ Gearhart said. ‘Since these chemicals are not regulated, consumers have no way of knowing the dangers they face. Our testing is intended to expose those dangers and encourage manufacturers to use safer alternatives.’

Chemicals of primary concern include: bromine (associated with brominated flame retardants, or BFRs); chlorine (indicating the presence of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC and plasticizers); lead; and 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.

“Automobiles function as chemical reactors, creating one of the most hazardous environments we spend time in,” Gearhart said. The Ecology Center writes that cars are an especially harsh environment for plastics, because high air temperatures and dashboard temperatures can increase the concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and break other chemicals down into more toxic substances.

Ben Popken writes on the blog Jalopnik, “Mmm, nothing like huffing in that sweet sweet new car smell. If they could make that into an eau du toilette pour homme, I would bathe in it daily.”

On a more serious note, he goes on to write:

Researchers recommended concerned consumers open their windows when they get in their car to ventilate them, and to use solar shields when parked. That can mitigate the amount of sun and heat entering that can interact with the components and catalyze the off-gassing process.

Take the information to be more aware about what goes into the making of a car and what you might be exposing yourself and your family to. If that’s a worry, it’s one more piece of data to use when comparison shopping, along with fuel-efficiency, crash safety, and thrill factor.

Image by, used under Fair Use: Reporting.


One Response to “New Study Ranks Car Interiors for Toxicity”


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Sally from Denver, Colorado

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