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Vena McGrath

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Smell' of new cars linked to cancer
by Vena McGrath   
Rated "PG" by the Author.
Last edited: Monday, June 09, 2008
Posted: Monday, June 09, 2008

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Everyone knows that 'new' smell about a new car or any kind of vehicle. But how many know about the risks from that smell?

One way you can recognise that you are driving or riding in a new car is the distinctive ‘new car smell’ from new materials used in the car’s construction that are still giving off odours.  Australian studies have suggested that as well as being unpleasant, these odours can be toxic and can even cause cancer.

Gases from vinyl and plastic materials in new cars cause headaches, drowsiness and nausea according to results of a two-year study by an Australian Government research organisation.

The emissions can take effect within just a few minutes and may very well be responsible for many accidents.  This is backed up by a study carried out by the CSIRO which found that sitting in a new car can expose people to dangerous levels of toxic emissions, just as the air inside our homes and workplaces is often more polluted than the air outside.

It is also noted that long-term exposure of women to these gases during pregnancy could cause cancers and abnormalities in unborn babies.

The study referred to unsubstantiated reports of drivers becoming ill while driving their new cars.

Symptoms of reactions to the chemicals include headaches, lung irritation, swellings and feeling ‘spaced out’. 

People purchasing new cars were advised to take measures to ensure plenty of fresh air circulates within the car for at least the first six months.

The automotive industry has criticized the study, saying that people are exposed to similar substances every day. A spokesman for the Australian Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries said that the unsubstantiated reports of people becoming ill while driving their new cars could be due to those people being particularly sensitive to the chemicals used.

Researchers found high levels of toxic emissions in new motor vehicles for 6 months and longer after they leave the showroom. 

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 dysfunction agent.
  • Xylene isomers – a foetal development toxic agent.

Researchers suggest that to reduce exposure to this toxic cocktail, people who buy new cars should ensure there is plenty of outside air entering the vehicle while they drive for at least six months after the new vehicle has been purchased.  They say that the ultimate solution would be cars with interior materials that produce low emissions.

I would hazard a guess that very few people know about these risks and perhaps this article will be read by people that will then pass on the information.  As with most things, what is written in the small print that few of us can be bothered reading because of the complexities of the writing, or hidden amongst a lot of automotive information in car manuals that remain unread pages, can be extremely important but kept from the population by clever means.  A suggestion would be of course to check up on the above by doing a bit of personal research into the subject and then act upon what you find. 

Buying a new vehicle is exciting;  you think about all the inbuilt safety features, but do you ever think that there would be inbuilt danger features? Does the salesman tell you that you should ensure there is plenty of fresh air (if you can call the outside air fresh) coming into the vehicle all the time for the first six months?  I doubt it.


Vena McGrath

June 2008


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