New cars and new babies may be a volatile mix.
New car smells may be hazardous to humans, especially infants. That odor emanating from the interior of new automobiles, an odor that many of us inhale slowly and deeply to better enjoy the aroma, may be toxic, very toxic. A British newspaper describes the enjoyment of the smell as “akin to glue-sniffing.”
1. Most of the interior of cars is made of plastics. Many of these plastics are volatile organic compounds that give off vapors. In animals, these vapors in high doses and over long periods are linked to birth defects, liver toxicity, premature births and early puberty. While such data cannot be precisely transposed to infants who generally spend far less time in new cars, researchers suggest minimizing exposure of infants.
2. Vapors are especially high in new cars, and persist for years. In one study, the day the car was delivered some of the vapors were more than 35 times the health limit. Four months later the vapors had fallen under the limit but increased again in the hot summer months, taking three years to permanently remain below safe limits. When cars are left in the sun on hot days, the heat in the car leaches toxic vapors out of the plastics.
3. Air out new cars.* Do so especially if you transport infants. Leave the windows down whenever you can – while you’re driving, while the car is parked in your driveway, when you stop at a park.
4. Dust it out. With cars, old or new, wipe the interior with a damp cloth regularly. The dust can be loaded with contaminants like flame retardants from the seat cushions (especially if your car is older and the cushions are beginning to degrade). While toxic dust may be a long-term health risk for everyone, it is an immediate issue for kids with allergies and asthma. To further reduce dust, run vents on high for 10 minutes with the windows down.
5. Vacuum it out. Before you wipe it down, vacuum your car’s upholstery and flooring with a machine that has a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter, or use the high-powered machines available at most car washes. You’ll suck up chemically-laden dust, allergens, and the dirt that’s tracked in on your feet (that could have lead, pesticides, or gasoline mixed in).
6. Wash it out. A good microfiber cloth and plain water can do wonders for washing the interior and exterior of cars. This may be as effective as all those magical car cleaners.
7. Don’t allow kids to wash cars. No need to expose them to the toxins that may be present. Both the interior and exterior of cars can be heavily contaminated. The outside, from road dirt, bird droppings and dead bugs, for example. Gasoline residue may linger around the fuel opening.
8. Keep your distance behind diesel trucks. The fumes are sucked into your car even if you have the air conditioner on. If possible take routes with less traffic.
9. Don’t make your old car smell like a new car. Car fresheners are available that duplicate the odor of new cars – and may contain some of the problematic toxins of new cars. Manufacturers of car air fresheners do not have to post the ingredients of their products.
10. Check on all car (and room) air refreshers. Some contain the same chemicals as new car smells; these volatile products allow the smell to emanate better. Many air fresheners merely mask other smells, they do not remove them. There are industrial-strength odor eliminators available that chemically neutralize smells and remove them.
* Some of the suggestions regarding minimizing new car smells were taken from the web page of Healthy Child/Healthy World. Go to their website for more information.