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 vehicles.
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
The group says that phthalates are partly
responsible for the smell associated with new
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
Ford 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, and
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 safety.
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 continued
"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 accidents.
"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.