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The Health Risks Associated with Driving a Brand New Car


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For some, there is nothing sweeter than the smell of a new car. But this smell is usually a mixture of volatile fumes given off by newly made surfaces and furniture.

Prolonged exposure to high temperatures is costly for those who spend quite a lot of time in a brand new car.

Chinese and American researchers found that levels of a number of cancer-causing chemicals exceeded safe limits in a new car parked outside for 12 days. Formaldehyde, a compound found in disinfectants, germicides and gas stoves, has been found to exceed China’s national safety standards by 35 percent.

Acetaldehyde, a possible class II carcinogen, has been found at concentrations 61% above safe limits. Benzene, a carcinogen found in paint and cigarettes, has also reached levels that are unsafe for drivers who spend long hours in cars, but not for their passengers.

Overall, the lifetime risk of cancer (ILCR) from several volatile organic compounds found inside the new vehicle used in the study was high enough to indicate a “high health risk for drivers.”

In general, an ILCR of 6-10 or lower is considered safe, 6-10 to 4-10 indicates a potential risk, and above 4-10 indicates a potential health risk.

A field experiment conducted by the researchers showed that the levels of known and potential carcinogens inside a closed car changed as the weather changed from sunny to overcast.

The study assessed the exposure of taxi drivers and passengers (who typically spend 11 hours and 1.5 hours a day in a car, respectively) to volatile (or airborne) compounds that can be absorbed through the skin or ingested, although mostly inhaled.

The medium-sized SUV used in the experiment was fitted with plastic, faux leather, and fabric. When these materials have just come off the production line, they release various volatile organic compounds into the air. This process is known as degassing.

The researchers took air samples from the car and, using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, determined the concentrations of 20 chemicals at different points in time. As the vehicle warmed up throughout the day, the interior temperature fluctuated dramatically from 21°C to 63°C (70°F to 145°F).

The concentration of volatile chemicals also had a cyclical pattern, which was determined by the surface temperature (rather than the air temperature) inside the vehicle.

A previous study out of California found that even just 20 minutes of driving in a new car can expose people to unsafe amounts of benzene and formaldehyde, increasing the health risk for those making longer commutes.

While the results are certainly noteworthy, it’s also worth remembering that exposure to chemicals in new vehicles can be limited by some common sense measures.

Instead, choose a used car or use an alternative mode of transport. And if you can’t escape the luxury of a car that has a few miles on the clock, maybe don’t drive when you can and breathe a little easier.

This article was published in Cell Reports Physical Science.

Source: Science Alert

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