Don’t you just love that “new car” smell? Here’s why you shouldn’t. A study was released by the Ecology Center, finding that some vehicle interiors have chemical levels that may be hazardous to the occupants' health. This nonprofit environmental group based in Ann Arbor, Mich., also ranked 204 vehicles for interior air quality in its 2012 Consumer Action Guide to Toxic Chemicals in Cars.
It’s a good thing if you drive a 2012 Honda Civic as its interior has the least amount of potentially toxic chemicals. It doesn’t have bromine-based flame retardants and uses PVC-free interior fabrics and interior trim. It also has low levels of heavy metals and other metal allergens.
On the other hand, the models that have the highest amounts of potentially toxic chemicals are the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, the 2011 Chrysler 200 SC and 2011 Kia Soul. Jeff Gearhart, research director for the Ecology Center, said that the concern about the range of chemicals in the car’s interiors is significant and is even increasing.
He added that the chemicals in these vehicles sometimes exceed those in homes or offices. He exclaimed, “That new-car smell is a cocktail of chemicals." The Ecology Center tested 11 interior parts (like steering wheels, instrument panels, carpeting, dashboards, armrests, seating and hard and soft trim) for toxic chemicals including bromine, chlorine, lead and heavy metals.
Gearhart said that majority of these chemicals don’t have a chemical bond to the materials so they’re released over time. The study found that drivers who are exposed to these chemicals, whether through inhalation or contact with dust, are putting their health at risk over conditions like allergies, liver toxicity, birth defects and cancer.
Gearhart said that cars are the “most unique environment that these chemicals can be in” since it’s “kind of a chemistry experiment on wheels." He explained that cars may reach very high temperatures due to the sun exposure, making chemicals released at quicker rates. Mitsubishi and Kia have yet to comment on this study.
A statement was released by Chrysler, reiterating its confidence in the safety of its vehicles. Chrysler said that the study only measured the presence of a component and not if the material affected the health of an occupant. Chrysler Group added that the disclaimer on HealthyStuff.org on its Web site “speaks for itself."