Toxins Responsible for that ‘New Car Smell’

Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center released its fourth consumer guide to toxic chemicals in cars. Over 200 of the most popular models last year were tested for chemicals present in the dashboard, armrests, seats etc.

These chemicals are responsible to the “new car smell” and are linked to many health concerns. Toxic chemicals inside vehicles are an often neglected, but major source of indoor air pollution.

The major chemicals of concern include bromine, chlorine and lead. These have all been linked to birth defects, liver toxicity, and hormone disruption in laboratory animals.

The plastic in the dashboard, steering wheel, and other places can release volatile organic compounds as temperatures inside the car can reach 192 – 248°F especially when vehicles are parked in the hot sun. Car users are exposed to these chemicals by breathing the air in the car as well as contact with dust.

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.” has information on cars, models, and fuel efficiency standards that car buyers can cross reference before purchase. According to the research, the best models include Honda Civic, Toyota Prius, and Honda CR-V. The worst picks include  Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Chrysler 200, and Kia Soul. Honda was listed as the top manufacturer across the board and their efforts towards PVC reduction was hailed. The Mitsubishi Outlander, on the other hand, contained bromine and antimony-based flame retardants in the seating and center console; chromium treated leather on several components; and over 400 ppm lead in seating materials.

The Ecology Center deems that the best vehicles have eliminated hazardous flame retardants and PVC. According to them, 17 percent of new vehicles have PVC -free interiors and 60 percent are produced without brominated flame retardants. According to statistics, the average American spends more than 1.5 hours in a car every day, inhaling toxic chemicals. Therefore, visitors to the website are encouraged to contact car manufacturers and ask them to subscribe to voluntary third party eco labels, such as the TUV Toxproof and Öko-Tex Standard 100, and reduce their use of toxic chemicals in vehicles.  A number of leading automakers, including Ford (TUV) and Volvo (Oko Tex), have already adopted these standards for some of their vehicles.

Image Credit: © 

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Shayna Samuels, Ripple Strategies.

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also

One response

Comments are closed.