Cars are known as one of the major contributors of air pollution. But what about the indoor air pollution of your brand new fancy car?
It is a common practice that many of us roll up our car windows and feel safe inside a car when we drive through dusty roads and crowded streets.
However, we are blissfully unaware of the fact that we are touching, smelling and sitting on hazardous chemicals such as bromine, chlorine, lead and heavy metals for hours on a daily basis.
A latest research by the environmental organisation, Ecology Centre, has revealed that the hazardous chemicals present in the interior car parts such as steering wheel, dashboard, armrests and seats can cause a variety of acute and long-term health problems.
Children are at a greater risk for developing health problems because they breathe in more air with respect to their body size than adults and thus have greater exposure to interior vehicle pollutants.
Ecology Centre has tested more than 200 most popular 2011 and 2012 model vehicles and found out that the high concentration of toxic chemicals present in the interiors of the cars add to the "new car smell," and are a major source of indoor air pollution.
Researchers tested the interiors using a portable X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyser and detected chemical elements such as lead, cadmium, chlorine, arsenic, mercury, tin, and antimony.
"Research shows that vehicle interiors contain a unique cocktail of hundreds of toxic chemicals that off-gas in small, confined spaces. 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," Jeff Gearhart, Research Director at the Ecology Center, opined in its 2012 new vehicles study.
"Automobiles function as chemical reactors, creating one of the most hazardous environments we spend time in," Gearhart added.
Chemicals which are commonly present in the interior of most of the cars are bromine (associated with brominated flame retardants), chlorine (indicating the presence of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC and plasticisers), lead and heavy metals.
Long-term exposure to these chemicals has been linked to allergies, birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity and cancer.
More than that, the extreme air temperatures of 192 F and dash temperatures up to 248 F can increase the concentration of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and break other chemicals down into more toxic substances, the study has pointed out.
However, lately major automakers have begun eliminating hazardous flame retardants and PVC. According to a 2012 statistics from the Ecology Center, 17 per cent of the new vehicles have PVC-free interiors and 60 per cent are produced without BFRs.
"We have established standards for four heavy-metal compounds (mercury, lead, cadmium, hexavalent chromium) and specified brominated flame retardants (PBDE; polybrominated diphenyl ethers), and prohibit or limit their use on all new models launched on the market from July 2007," David Swerdlow, Nissan International SA's Corporate and Brand Communication Manager for Europe, told The International Business Times UK.
"We are also working to reduce VOCs from vehicle cabins and are currently reviewing the materials and adhesives used in seats, door trim, floor carpets, and other cabin components. Specifically, we are reducing VOCs to satisfy voluntary standards for all new models launched, again from 2007," he added.
Some of the cars featured in the list of less-chemical interiors by the Ecology Center are Honda Civic, Toyota Prius and Honda CR-Z. Some of the worst performers include Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Chrysler 200 SC, Hyundai-Kia Soul.
The study shows that Honda Civic is free of bromine-based flame retardants in all interior components, PVC-free interior fabrics and interior trim and has low levels of heavy metals and other metal allergens.
Researchers found out the presence of bromine and antimony-based flame retardants in the seating and centre console, chromium treated leather on several components and over 400 ppm lead in seating materials in the Mitsubishi Outlander.
Volkswagen, Mitsubishi and Ford have shown improvement from the 2009/2010 models to the 2011/2012 models. Two companies which have a declining rate in terms of interior chemical reduction for the same period is Diamler and Volvo.
The complete list of car ratings based on interior pollution is available at www. HealthyStuff.org.
"We're pleased to be recognised by HealthyStuff.org for our efforts. Over the past decade, Honda has taken a number of steps to reduce or remove chemicals of concern from our vehicles. We voluntarily report these efforts in our annual North American Environmental Report," stated Marcos Frommer, Manager of Corporate Affairs & Communications at American Honda, reacting to the rating of Honda Civic.