Driving a new car could cost your health: ScienceAlert

For some, there’s nothing more luxurious than the smell of a new car.

This scent – a mixture of volatile vapors produced by freshly worked surfaces and upholstery – can smell like silver, but with prolonged exposure to higher temperatures it comes at a cost to those who spend enough time in a freshly hit vehicle.

Chinese and American researchers have found that levels of a number of cancer-causing chemicals exceeded safe limits inside a new car parked outside for 12 days.

Formaldehyde, a compound found in disinfectants, germicides and gas stoves, was detected at levels 35% exceeding Chinese national safety standards. Acetaldehyde, a probable class II carcinogen, has been found at concentrations exceeding safety limits by 61%.

Benzene, a carcinogen found in paints, gasoline and cigarettes, has also reached dangerous levels for drivers who spend long hours in cars, but not for their passengers.

In total, the incremental lifetime Cancer The risk (ILCR) of several volatile organic compounds detected inside the single new car used in the study was high enough to imply a “high health risk to drivers”.

“Generally, an ILCR of 10-6 or less is considered safe, between 10-6 and 10-4 indicates a potential risk, and greater than 10-4 indicates a high potential health risk,” explain.

The researchers’ field experience indicated that levels of known and probable carcinogens changed inside a sealed car where the weather varied from sunny to cloudy.

The study estimated the exposure of taxi drivers and passengers (who typically spend 11 hours and 1.5 hours in a car each day, respectively) to volatile (or airborne) compounds that can be absorbed through the skin or ingested, although they are mainly inhaled.

Incremental lifetime cancer risk for drivers and passengers from exposure to volatile compounds of known carcinogens (Wang et al., Cell Reports Physical Sciences2023)

The mid-size SUV used in the experiment was outfitted in plastic, leatherette, woven fabric, and felt. When these materials fresh off the production line, they release a variety of volatile organic compounds into the air, a process known as outgassing.

The researchers took air samples from the car and used gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy to determine the concentrations of 20 chemicals at different times.

As the car heated up during the day, its interior temperature fluctuated wildly from 70°F to 145°F (21°C to 63°C).

Volatile chemical concentrations also took on a cyclical pattern, which was determined by surface temperature (rather than air temperature) inside the car.

Formaldehyde concentrations fluctuated throughout the experiment. (Wang et al., Cell Reports Physical Sciences2023)
Concentrations of 20 airborne chemicals found inside the car. (Wang et al., Cell Reports Physical Sciences2023)

Previous research in California has shown that even barely 20 minute drive in a new car can expose people to dangerous amounts of benzene and formaldehyde, with health risks increasing for those on longer journeys.

While the results are certainly worth noting, it’s worth keeping in mind new car chemical exposure can be limited with a few common sense measures.

Otherwise, opt for a used car or use alternative transport.

If you can’t avoid the luxury of a car with a few miles on the odometer, maybe skip the rides when you can and breathe a little easier.

This article was published in Physical Sciences Cell Reports.

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