Mom Detective: Are We Breathing Toxic Air INSIDE Our Car?

BY ON March 11, 2015

Pregnant woman sitting in car

Most days, after my work day comes to a close, I quickly put on my mom aka chauffeur hat and driving responsibilities take over. Our schedule is busy and we end up spending a good portion of the late afternoon into early evening driving around in our car from activity to activity.

According to National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the population of industrialized countries such as the United States and countries from the European Union spends approximately more than one hour each day in their cars. Whether it’s your work commute or driving your children to and from activities, that’s a lot of time spent in the car.

With the windows sealed tightly to keep the cold or hot air out, and the small, confined space, the toxic chemical exposure inside a car can be a major source of indoor air pollution.

Untested Chemicals Lurking in Our Cars

Our homes, schools, offices and even our cars are home to a plethora of untested chemicals. More than 80,000 chemicals available in the United States have never been fully tested for their toxic effects on our health and environment.

Car interiors are filled with a toxic soup of chemicals that off-gas from different parts of the car including the seats, steering wheel, dashboard and carpets. These chemicals make up that “new car smell” that we’ve either come to love or hate and can be a major contributor to indoor air pollution.

A few years back the Ecology Center tested more than 200 of the most popular 2011- and 2012-model vehicles for chemicals that off-gas. What they found was mind-boggling. According to Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center

“Research shows that vehicle interiors contain a unique cocktail of hundreds of toxic chemicals that off-gas in small, confined spaces. Since these chemicals are not regulated, consumers have no way of knowing the dangers they face. Our testing is intended to expose those dangers and encourage manufacturers to use safer alternatives.”

Some of these toxic chemicals are known carcinogens and endocrine disrupters. Many if not most of these chemicals have never been tested for safety, so we have no way of knowing their health impacts. Our bodies are bombarded with toxic chemicals every time we step into our cars, and there’s no regulation preventing it.

Some of the health problems linked to toxic chemical exposure include cancer, infertility, neurodevelopmental disorders, low birth weight, learning problems, birth defects, obesity, and asthma. Pregnant women, infants, and children are especially vulnerable to the health impacts of toxic chemical exposure.

And there’s more…

Those chemicals inside your car are more likely to be toxic when they are exposed to extreme temperatures such as heat. According to the Ecology Center study,

“Automobiles function as chemical reactors, creating one of the most hazardous environments we spend time in…”

There is some good news. In recent years automakers have been reducing the amount of toxic chemicals used in their vehicle production. Some manufacturers have altogether eliminated bromine-based toxic flame retardants from their interior cabin (Honda Civic) and PVC, but we still have a long way to go before all vehicles are free from toxic chemicals.

What You Can Do

  • Roll down the windows in your car as much as possible.
  • Park your car in the shade. Use sun reflectors on your dashboard to keep intense heat out of your vehicle.
  • Check if your car has a filtration system (most later model vehicles have them) and replace the filter when needed.
  • Wash your hands after driving and have your passengers do the same.
  • Join Moms Clean Air Force


TOPICS: Cars and Trucks, Mom Detective, Toxics