Neocar syndrome

The interiors of new cars are full of toxic emissions

Published: Thursday 31 January 2002

the exhilaration and thrill one feels on buying a new car is unparalleled, but these can be dampened by a recent find: the familiar 'new car smell' is laden with high levels of toxic emissions that can badly affect human health. Research by Australia-based Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (csiro) has found high levels of toxic emissions in new motor vehicles for up to six months and longer after they leave the showroom. The emissions include toxins such as benzene, acetone, ethyl benzene and xylene isomers.

"It is commonly known that air inside our homes and workplaces is often much more polluted than the air outside. Similarly, sitting in a new car can expose you to levels of toxic emissions many times beyond goals established by Australia's National Health & Medical Research Council (nhmrc)," said Steve Brown, head of csiro's Air Quality Control Research. During their two-year study, csiro researchers found a number of anecdotal evidences for the same. For example, a solicitor was found to be ill for several days after driving his new car for only 10 minutes.

While studying two Australian-made cars which had reached the market 3-10 weeks after manufacture, the researchers found that total volatile organic compound (tvoc) concentrations in these cars were initially very high -- up to 64,000 microgrammes per cubic metre. "These levels decreased by approximately 60 per cent in the first month, but still much exceeded the nhmrc indoor air goal of 500 microgrammes per cubic metre," says Brown. The third car studied was imported and it had reached the market four months after its manufacture. The concentration of tvocs in it was found to be 2,000 microgrammes per cubic metre -- four times more than what is recommended.

According to Brown, to avoid exposure to this toxic cocktail, owners of new cars should make sure that plenty of air enters the vehicle for at least six months after it has been purchased ( , December 29, 2001).

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