Study Finds ‘New Car Smell’ Contains High Levels Of Carcinogens

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  1. Mahmoud Abudeif

    Mahmoud Abudeif Golden Member

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    That “new car smell” everyone loves is actually the scent of dangerous carcinogens — and drivers with long commutes could be at risk, according to a new study.

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    Researchers at UC-Riverside analyzed levels of benzene and formaldehyde measured in the air and dust of automobile cabins, and “potential risk” for people who spend significant amounts of time driving.

    Formaldehyde is used by manufacturers in carpets, leather and paints in vehicle cabs, while benzene is contained in a variety of materials used in cars.

    Both “off-gas” in the car cabin, creating what is popularly known as “new car smell.” Both are also cancer-causing carcinogens, and benzene can pose risks to reproductive and developmental health.

    “People experiencing long commutes over years and, in some cases, decades likely represent a sub-population vulnerable to excess exposure to vehicle-borne chemicals,” the researchers wrote in their study, which appears in the April issue of Environmental International.

    For their study, the researchers calculated the daily dose of the two chemicals taken in each day by California drivers who spend 20 minutes or more commuting each day.

    They found that Californians in that category have an at least 10 percent chance of inhaling cancerous levels of both chemicals.

    The amount of each circulating in any one car depends on factors include “temperature, ventilation rate and mode, humidity, solar radiation, vehicle age and grade, cabin value, car upholstery material, and travel distance,” according to the report.

    Cars with fabric seats, as opposed to leather, show lower concentrations of benzene, for example. Another study in 2013 found twice as much in-vehicle formaldehyde in California compared to New Jersey and Texas.

    “Of course, there is a range of exposure that depends on how long you’re in the car, and how much of the compounds your car is emitting,” said Aalekhya Reddam, the lead author of the study.

    But Reddam advised car commuters keep their windows open as much as possible.

    “At least with some air flow, you’d be diluting the concentration of these chemicals inside your car,” she said.

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