Is Your Car Trapping Your Family in a Toxic Bubble?

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Is Your Car Trapping Your Family in a Toxic Bubble?

Now there’s another reason to park in the shade. Every time your car is parked in direct sunlight, toxins are released from the plastic, glue, vinyl, and paint found in most cars, and in some child car seats. With the windows closed, a toxic fume brews from what scientists call volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that, when breathed, can cause headaches and nausea—or with longer exposure, can lead to major health problems, according to the Ecology Center, a nonprofit organization based in Ann Arbor, MI.

In fact, researchers at the Ecology Center warn that chemicals including bromine (used in flame retardants), chlorine (found in polyvinyl chloride or PVC), and lead have been found in cars and child car seats. This is disturbing because researchers say these chemicals are linked to liver disorders, thyroid problems, asthma, memory impairment, decreased fertility, and developmental problems in children.

“When the vehicle heats up, it accelerates the release of these chemicals. … We think the auto manufacturers can do more because we did find a number of these harmful chemicals in several cars,” explains Claudette Juska, Auto Project Coordinator with Ecology Center.

A few years ago, the Ecology Center called for auto manufacturers to replace items made with PVC, bromine, and any other toxic chemicals and a few are beginning to do so, including Toyota and Honda, explained Juska. Volvo is also certifying material they use to a standard. Ford is only doing so in their new European models, says Juska. So literally, almost every car on the road currently contains some toxic compounds.

To help consumers make more eco-educated purchases, HealthyCar.org is now providing lists of auto manufacturers on its site that are beginning to replace toxic compounds. And in May, HealthyCar.org released the first ranking of child car seats based on the levels of toxic chemicals found in a study conducted by the Ecology Center. Sixty-two new infant, convertible, and booster car seats were tested. A wide range of results were found from those with no dangerous chemicals to others that were “saturated.” Sadly, one-third of all seats tested had a high level of at least one toxic chemical.

The best infant car seats include Graco SnugRide, Emerson, and EvenFlo and the reported worst offenders were Combi Centre, EX Mango, and Peg Perego Primo Vaggio.  

Common Sense Rules:

Juska urged parents to consider buying new car seats if they currently use those on the “bad” list for hazardous compounds. Since most cars are still made with toxic chemicals—and not all of us can afford to rush out and buy a new Toyota, Honda or Volvo—there are some things we can do to lower our family’s exposure.

  • Park in the shade
  • Use a solar shade
  • Vacuum often as chemicals have been found in dust in the car
  • Ventilate the car before getting back in
  • Use non-recirculating air conditioning

“We don’t want parents to panic, but they need to know that even low regular doses to these chemicals have an effect. And that’s what we’re concerned about—parents and children traveling in their cars day after day,” says Juska.

How does this information make you feel? Were you aware of the dangers leaching from materials in cars?