Why New car smell ? | Is it toxic ?

'New Car Smell' Could Be Toxic

Love that factory-fresh scent? New research about how it could hurt your health may change your mind. Find out what's really behind that mysterious "new car smell." (Hint: It's not leather!)

By Allison Takeda

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THURSDAY, Feb. 16, 2012 —There's nothing quite like the smell of a new car the day you drive it off the lot. Air fresheners and aerosol sprays have tried to mimic the scent, but neither really captures the leathery essence of that factory-fresh aroma. It's intoxicating — in more ways than one, according to research.

A new study from the environmentally conscious nonprofit Ecology Center and HealthyStuff.org says that what you’re actually sniffing when you inhale that “new car smell” are poisonous fumes from materials used in the vehicle manufacturing process. Researchers tested the interiors of about 200 popular 2011-2012 automobiles and found that steering wheels, dashboards, armrests, door frames, and seats contained more than 275 different chemicals. Among these were bromine from brominated flame retardants (BFRs), which are added to plastics to make them less flammable; chlorine from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is used for plastics and windshields; and lead, which is found in many seating materials.

“Vehicle interiors contain a unique cocktail of hundreds of toxic chemicals that off-gas in small, confined spaces,” Ecology Center research director Jeff Gearhart said in a statement. “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.”

Of particular concern, the researchers say, are BFRs and PVC, which have been linked to thyroid issues, memory impairment, decreased fertility, behavioral changes, birth defects, cancer, and problems with the liver, testes, ovaries, kidneys, and blood. Lead exposure may also raise the risk for brain disorders, especially in children.

It’s not all bad news, though. In general, the team said, the toxicity of cars has actually decreased since the Ecology Center first began testing six years ago. Today, 60 percent of new vehicles are produced without BFRs, and 17 percent have PVC-free interiors — compared with zero percent in 2006.

“We’ve seen an improvement on average in the vehicles that are in the market,” Gearhart . “So, we know there is a trend toward healthier interiors.”

Leading that trend is the 2012 Honda Civic, which earned a .46 ranking from the study for its non-bromine-based flame retardants and PVC-free fabrics.

“We’re pleased to be recognized by HealthyStuff.org for our efforts,” Marcos Frommer, manager of corporate affairs and communications at American Honda, said in a statement. “Over the past decade, Honda has taken a number of steps to reduce or remove chemicals of concern from our vehicles.”

Rival car companies may want to follow suit — especially those whose automobiles fall on the other end of the spectrum. In last place, with a score of 3.17, is the Mitsubishi Outlander, which has bromine- and antimony-based flame retardants in the seating and center console, chromium-treated leather, and over 400 parts per million (ppm) of lead in seating materials.

Want to know where your car ranks? Check out the rest of the best and worst vehicles for your health.

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