One way you can
often recognize a new car when you're riding in it
is that distinctive 'new car smell' - new materials
used in the car's construction that are still giving
off odors. Studies in Australia have suggested that
far from being pleasant, those odors can be toxic
and can even cause cancer.
A two-year study by an Australian government
research organization found gases from vinyl and
plastic materials in new cars cause headaches,
nausea and drowsiness.
The chemicals involved include benzene - a
known cancer-causing agent - which was found
in one case at five times the recommended exposure
Benzene - carcinogen
Acetone - irritant
Ethyl benzene - toxin
Xylene isomers - foetal toxin
The study by the Commonwealth Scientific and
Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) found
emissions can take just a few minutes to take effect
and may be responsible for many accidents.
"Just as air inside our homes and workplaces is
often much more polluted than the air outside, so
sitting in a new car can expose you to [dangerous]
levels of toxic emissions," said the head of CSIRO's
air quality control unit, Steve Brown.
Long-term exposure could cause cancers and
abnormalities in unborn babies.
The study found anecdotal evidence of drivers
becoming ill while driving their new cars.
Symptoms included: headaches; lung irritation,
swellings; and feeling "spaced out".
He advised people who buy new cars to take
measures to ensure plenty of fresh air circulates
within the car while driving for the first six
The automotive industry has criticized the study,
saying people are exposed to similar substances
A spokesman for the Australian Federal Chamber of
Automotive Industries said the anecdotal evidence
could be due to the people involved being
particularly sensitive to the chemicals.
Researchers found high levels of air toxic
emissions in new motor vehicles for six months and
longer after they leave the showroom. Measurements
made during the study found total volatile organic
compound concentrations were initially very high, up
to 64,000 micrograms per cubic meter.
Controlled exposures of human subjects by other
researchers to a 22-compound mixture at
concentrations of less than half this have produced
effects within minutes, such as discomfort,
drowsiness, fatigue, eye/nose/throat irritation, and
Air toxics found inside new cars during the study
and the effects they may cause included:
- Benzene - a known human carcinogen for which
an annual exposure goal of 16 micrograms per
cubic meter has been recommended in the UK
- Acetone - a mucosal irritant
- Cyclohexanone - a possible human carcinogen
- Ethylbenzene - a systemic toxic agent
- MIBK - a systemic toxic agent
- n-Hexane - a neurotoxic agent
- Styrene - a probable human carcinogen
- Toluene - a central nervous system
- Xylene isomers - a foetal development toxic
Researchers suggest that to reduce exposure to
this toxic cocktail, people who buy new cars should
make sure there is plenty of outside air entering
the vehicle while they drive for at least six months
after the vehicle has been purchased. They say that
the ultimate solution would be cars with interior
materials that produce low emissions.