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Technician measuring air quality in car

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New Car Smell Toxic

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.

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 metre.

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 headaches.

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 metre 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 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.