Why that "New Car Smell" Poses Health Risks
Some people love the smell of a new car. The familiar
odor has become associated with the joy of owning a new,
spotless vehicle. You can even buy air freshener that
mimics the smell of a new car. The fumes inside a new
car, however, make many people very sick, and scientific
research shows that the much-sought-after new car smell
poses serious health risks.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and other toxic
chemicals constitute the new car smell. VOC fumes
emanate from glues, paints, vinyls, and plastics inside
new cars. They can trigger headaches, sore throats,
nausea, and drowsiness. Studies have found 50-60
different VOCs in new cars.
The problem is similar to "sick building syndrome," in which VOCs
make people sick when the toxic chemicals seep from walls, carpets,
and fixtures of new buildings. Automobile cabins, on the other hand,
are smaller, more confined spaces where air pollution has a more intense
impact on occupants.
According to a 2001 study by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and
Industrial Research Organization, simply sitting in a new car can
subject passengers to toxic emissions well beyond safe levels.
"We find new car interiors have much higher VOC levels than any
building we've researched," said researcher Steve Brown.
"Ultimately, what we need are cars with interior materials that
produce lower emissions."
A recent Japanese study found that the VOCs in a new minivan were
over 35 times the health limit the day after its delivery. Japanese
automobile manufacturers have become the first to set goals for
reducing VOCs in new cars. According to an alliance representing
General Motors, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler, the U.S. auto
manufacturers do not follow the issue of VOC emission in new cars.
Like the smell, the chemical effect eventually wears off, typically
after about six to eight months. During those months, try to avoid
parking in direct sunlight, and use a solar reflector whenever
possible since heat causes even more VOCs to escape into the air.
Good ventilation is the key to avoiding VOC illness. Let in fresh
air as frequently as possible by opening doors, rolling down
windows, and running the air conditioning.
Many allergy sufferers, however, try to avoid the outdoor air (and
pollen) during allergy season. For such allergy sufferers, we have
the ultimate solution:
a portable HEPA air purifier for your car.
Simply plug the
air purifier into your car's cigarette lighter, and
it will effectively rid your automobile of allergens, VOCs, noxious
odors, and other pollutants that find their way into your car.
Hopefully more countries will follow Japan's lead, and in a few
years, maybe new cars won't emit toxic fumes. But at least we'll
still have the scented air freshener to remind us!