Let’s Talk About That “Fresh Car Smell” and What It Might Mean for Our Families!
We all love that new car smell, don’t we? It’s an intoxicating aroma that seems to scream, “welcome to your shiny new ride!” However, have you ever stopped to consider what causes this distinctive scent? You might be surprised to find out that this “fresh car smell” could carry some potential health risks.
Yes, you heard that right – our beloved new car aroma comes from off-gassing Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and other potentially hazardous chemicals. These have been connected to various health concerns, even increasing the risk of cancer. Now, California has stepped up with Proposition 65, which mandates businesses to warn us about exposure to these harmful substances. So, let’s delve into the matter and talk about how we can reduce the impact on our health.
So, what’s the fuss about?
- The VOCs Culprit
VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds, are gases released from certain solids or liquids. In our cars, these chemicals come from parts like the upholstery, dashboard, carpeting, and even the steering wheel. This new car smell we adore is essentially a cocktail of these VOCs. Some common VOCs found in cars like benzene, toluene, and formaldehyde, have known negative health impacts.
- The Chemical Cocktail
Besides VOCs, our cars also contain other hazardous substances, such as flame retardants, plasticizers, and heavy metals. They hide in the seat covers, plastic parts, and even the air conditioning system, creating potential health risks.
- Cancer Risks and Proposition 65
California’s Proposition 65, also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, calls for warnings about chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. Many substances found in new cars fall under this regulation, connecting new car interiors to potential cancer risks.
The Health Impact of That New Car Smell
In the short term, exposure to these chemicals can cause discomfort like throat, eye, and nose irritation, headaches, dizziness, and even more serious conditions such as nausea and vomiting. For those of us with kids who have asthma or allergies, these effects can intensify, causing worsened symptoms and breathing difficulties.
Moreover, additional concerns emerge when considering prolonged exposure to these substances. Gradually, such chemicals can result in the development of chronic respiratory problems, as well as cause damage to the liver, kidneys, and the neurological system. However, the most alarming consequence of long-term exposure is the heightened risk of cancer formation. For example, benzene, a common VOC found in new cars, is a known human carcinogen, and long-term exposure can lead to leukemia and other blood cell cancers.
So, what can we do about it?
There are several ways we can reduce the toxic load from our new cars:
- Off-Gassing Measures:
Park your car in a well-ventilated area or under the sun and leave the windows down as often as you can. Warm temperatures accelerate the off-gassing process, helping to get rid of a substantial portion of the VOCs before you start using the car regularly.
- Activated Carbon Filters:
Activated carbon, or activated charcoal, can effectively absorb VOCs and other harmful chemicals, filtering them out before they reach the cabin.
- Absorb Chemicals:
Introducing baking soda or zeolite, non-hazardous absorbing substances, can also help eliminate chemical smells. But remember to replace or rejuvenate them frequently to prevent the smells from getting back into the car.
- Buy Early and Let It Sit:
Buying your new car well ahead of when you actually need it allows more time for off-gassing, reducing the VOC concentration by the time you start using the car.
- Regular Maintenance and Ventilation:
Keep your car clean and ventilate it as much as possible. Even after initial off-gassing, chemicals can still be released over time.
Alternatively, consider buying a lightly used car. By the time a car has been in use for a few years, much of the initial off-gassing has already taken place, and the concentration of VOCs is typically much lower.
Although a used car may not give you the allure of that new car smell, it’s a step towards healthier air quality within the vehicle, possibly saving you from the short and long-term health effects associated with the harmful substances found in new cars.
We love the lure of a new car, its sparkling exterior and “fresh-off-the-factory” scent. But it’s crucial to remember that the unique aroma comes from chemicals that could pose health risks. Thankfully, with some simple steps like letting your car off-gas, using activated carbon filters, and ensuring regular ventilation, we can significantly reduce these risks. Or, we have the option to select a lightly used car, which can effectively decrease our exposure to these detrimental chemicals. In the end, the decision is entirely up to us. Therefore, let’s ensure that we make an informed choice, prioritizing the well-being of our families.
- Guo, Ruihua et al. “Evaluation of Typical Volatile Organic Compounds Levels in New Vehicles under Static and Driving Conditions.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 19,12 7048. 9 Jun. 2022, doi:10.3390/ijerph19127048
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- “February 2022: Study Invite: Are There Flame Retardants in Your Car?” Green Science Policy Institute, greensciencepolicy.org/news-events/newsletter/february-2022-study-invite-are-there-flame-retardants-in-your-car.
- Reddam, Aalekhya, and David C. Volz. “Inhalation of Two Prop 65-Listed Chemicals within Vehicles May Be Associated with Increased Cancer Risk.” Environment International, vol. 149, 2021, p. 106402, doi:10.1016/j.envint.2021.106402.
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- Nurmatov, Ulugbek B., et al. “Volatile Organic Compounds and Risk of Asthma and Allergy: A Systematic Review.” European Respiratory Review, vol. 24, no. 135, 2015, pp. 92–101, doi:10.1183/09059180.00000714.
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- “Benzene and Cancer Risk.” American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org/cancer/risk-prevention/chemicals/benzene.html.
- Maximoff, Sergey N. “Performance Evaluation of Activated Carbon Sorbents for Indoor Air Purification during Normal and Wildfire Events.” Science Direct, doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2022.135314