Make us your home page

New car smell a mix of potentially harmful chemicals

Ahhh. The new car smell. It's so popular, fragrance companies try to replicate it in air fresheners for cars. But did you know that the smell is a result of gases coming from automotive parts, such as the steering wheel, dashboard, armrests and seats? Some chemicals may cause a variety of acute and long-term health issues. The Ecology Center recently released its consumer guide to toxic chemicals in cars at after testing more than 200 of the most popular 2011-12 models.

"Research shows that vehicle interiors contain a unique cocktail of hundreds of toxic chemicals that off-gas in small, confined spaces," said Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center. "Since these chemicals are not regulated, consumers have no way of knowing the dangers they face. Our testing is intended to expose these dangers and encourage manufacturers to use safer alternatives."

Chemicals of primary concern include:

• bromine (associated with brominated flame retardants, or BFRs)

• chlorine (indicating the presence of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC and plasticizers)

• lead

• heavy metals

Such chemicals have been linked to a range of health problems such as allergies, birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity and cancer. Cars are particularly harsh on plastics in the summer months because of extreme air temperatures of up to 192 degrees Fahrenheit and dash temperatures up to 248 degrees can increase the concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOC's) and break other chemicals down into more toxic substances. Remember the "fogging" that you had to clean off of your windshield? That's from chemical vapors.

The good news is overall ratings are improving. The best vehicles today have eliminated hazardous flame retardants and PVC. Today, 17 percent of new vehicles have PVC-free interiors and 60 percent are produced without BFRs.

Top ranking cars

1 Honda Civic (above): The 2012 Civic achieved its ranking by being free of bromine-based flame retardants in all interior components; using PVC-free interior fabrics and interior trim; and having low levels of heavy metals and other metal allergens.

2 Toyota Prius (2011)

3 Honda CR-Z (2011)

4 Nissan Cube (2011)

5 Acura RDX (2012)

6 Acura ZDX (2012)

7 Audi S5 (2012)

8 Smart Coupe (2011)

9 Toyota Venza (2011)

10 Smart Passion (2011)

Worst ranking cars

1 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport: The 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander 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.

2 Chrysler 200 SC (2011)

3 Kia Soul (2011)

4 Nissan Versa (2011)

5 Mazda CX-7 (2011)

6 Hyundai Accent

7 Chevy Aveo 5 (2011)

8 Kia Sportage (2011)

9 Volkswagen Eos (2012)

10 Mini Cooper S Clubman (2012)

Most improved automakers from 2009-2010 to 2011-2012 models in terms of average ratings for their vehicles are: Volkswagen ( up 42 percent) and Mitsubishi (up 38 percent) and Ford (up 30 percent).

Two automakers had overall declining average scores from 2009-2010 to 2011-2012: Daimler AG (down 29 percent) and Volvo (down 13 percent).

New car smell a mix of potentially harmful chemicals 02/23/12 [Last modified: Thursday, February 23, 2012 3:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Road to Nowhere' is back: Next phase of Suncoast Parkway coming


    Despite intense public opposition and dubious traffic projections, the Florida Department of Transportation has announced that construction of the toll road known as "Suncoast 2" is expected to start in early 2018.

    The Suncoast Parkway ends at U.S. 98 just south of Citrus County. For years residents have opposed extending the toll road, a project dubbed the "Suncoast 2" into Citrus County. But state officials recently announced that the Suncoast 2 should start construction in early 2018. [Stephen J. Coddington  |  TIMES]
  2. A sports rout on Wall Street


    NEW YORK — Sporting goods retailers can't shake their losing streak.

  3. Grocery chain Aldi hosting hiring event in Brandon Aug. 24


    BRANDON — German grocery chain Aldi is holding a hiring event for its Brandon store Aug. 24. It is looking to fill store associate, shift manager and manager trainee positions.

  4. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik backs film company pursuing global blockbusters


    TAMPA — Jeff Vinik's latest investment might be coming to a theater near you.

    Jeff Vinik, Tampa Bay Lightning owner, invested in a new movie company looking to appeal to a global audience. | [Times file photo]
  5. Trigaux: Look to new Inc. 5000 rankings for Tampa Bay's future heavyweights


    There's a whole lotta fast-growing private companies here in Tampa Bay. Odds are good you have not heard of most of them.


    Kyle Taylor, CEO and founder of The Penny Hoarder, fills a glass for his employees this past Wednesday as the young St. Petersburg personal advice business celebrates its landing at No. 25 on the 2017 Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing private companies in the country. Taylor, still in his 20s, wins kudos from executive editor Alexis Grant for keeping the firm's culture innovative. The business ranked No. 32 last year. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]