Group: 'New car smell' includes toxins
Environmental group contends drivers, passengers are breathing
dangerous chemicals found in car interiors; calls for new regs.
January 31, 2006; Posted: 8:09 a.m. EST (1309 GMT)
NEW YORK - A Michigan environmental
group is charging that at least part of the so-called "new car
smell" is toxic, and that the interior of an automobile has
dangerous levels of various chemicals.
The report, "Toxic at any speed," comes from
The Ecology Center, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based group. It reports
that PBDEs, used as fire retardants, and
phthalates, used primarily to
soften PVC plastics, are found in dangerous amounts in dust and
windshield film samples.
It called for tougher regulations to phase
out the use of the chemicals as well as voluntary moves by the
auto manufacturers to stop using the products inside of new
It also suggested that car owners take steps
to reduce the release and breakdown of these chemicals by using
solar reflectors, ventilating car interiors, and parking outside
of sunlight whenever possible.
The group says that phthalates are partly
responsible for the smell associated with new cars.
Drivers and passengers are exposed to these
chemicals through inhalation and contact with dust, according to
the group's report.
"These groups of chemicals have been linked
to birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, premature
births and early puberty in laboratory animals, among other
serious health problems," according to the report.
"We can no longer rely just on seatbelts and
airbags to keep us safe in cars," said a statement from Jeff
Gearhart, the Ecology Center's Clean Car Campaign Director who
co-authored the report. "Our research shows that autos are
chemical reactors, releasing toxins before we even turn on the
ignition. There are safer alternatives to these chemicals, and
innovative companies that develop them first will likely be
rewarded by consumers."
The group found Volvo was found to have the
lowest levels of phthalates and the second-lowest levels of
PBDEs, which it said made theFord Motor Co. -owned unit the
industry leader in terms of indoor air quality. Volvo also has
the toughest policies for phasing out these chemicals.
Other auto manufacturers had more mixed
records on the two types of chemicals, according to the group's
survey. For example, Korean auto manufacturer Hyundai had the
lowest level of PBDEs, but the highest level of phthalates.
The group said it was told by Ford officials
that the auto manufacturer has eliminated PBDEs from "interior
components that customers may come into contact with." Ford had
among the lowest level of PBDEs in its vehicles, andGeneral
Motors and BMW vehicles also had lower-than-average levels
for all chemicals tested. But Mercedes, Chrysler, Toyota and
Subaru had higher-than-average levels of both PBDEs and
In response to the study, one industry group
defended the use of PBDEs as an important contributor to vehicle
The Bromine Science and Environmental Forum
said in a statement that PBDEs known as Deca-BDE have been
extensively studied in the U.S. and Europe -- including a
10-year-long risk assessment -- and found to be safe for
"If automobile manufacturers follow the
guidance in the report, it could result in lowering fire safety
for the public, as well as promoting the use of unidentified
alternative substances about which very little may be known,"
said the group's statement. It said it is crucial that autos
have the best possible flame retardants available in case of
"In 2004 alone, there were
approximately 297,000 car fires in the United States, leading to
550 deaths. If effective flame retardants were not used, this
number would certainly be higher," the group's statement said.
Auto manufacturers have already
agreed to phase out two of the three flame-retardant chemicals
cited in the report, Eron Shosteck, a spokesman for the Alliance
of Automobile Manufacturers, told the Detroit News. The
remaining chemical has been studied by the European Union for 10
years and has been proven safe, Shosteck said.
The report was released Jan. 11
during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit,
but it received little attention outside of Michigan.