Good Motoring
Car’s toxic aroma
H. Kishie Singh

H. Kishie Singh

One of the most exciting joys of buying a new car is the fresh smell the interior has. In days gone by, the new car smell was from the wood and leather. Both are natural products and had a very pleasant smell. The wood was handcrafted and polished to a high gloss. It was a safe material. The leather was also hand cured with traditional methods. It also had a pleasant smell, which dissipated over time.

Today there is no wood; it has been replaced by plastic, which has its own smell, not necessarily pleasant. This leads to air-freshner bottles sitting on the dash board.

The leather is still there but due to the high volumes of it being used, hand curing is no longer possible. Machines are used, and because of the quantity required, a vast amount of chemicals are used for curing and colouring.

The smell is still there, and as you inhale the lovely aroma, you are also taking in a gulp of volatile organic compounds (VOC), which could include formaldehyde. It is a preservative for the leather and has carcinogenic properties — cancer producing. Certain other chemicals used could include benzene, also a carcinogenic substance. There are other chemicals used to make the plastic parts hard, rigid and flameproof. They could all release benzene, formaldehyde and chlorine.

Chemical sprays and polish in a new car emit toxic fumes, which are injurious to health

The steering wheel, right in your face, dashboard, gear-shift knob, carpets and door panels could all be releasing these toxic chemicals. The side effects of a new-smelling car could be cancer, impotency, anemia and may cause damage to the kidneys and liver. Your family will proclaim surprisingly: “But Dad was a teetotaller!”

The good news is that these effects wear off after 6-8 months. The not-so-good news is that to keep the plastic bits in your car looking spic and span, there are chemical sprays, polish, air freshners, all of which are inorganic. They will make sure that the plastic bits continue to emit these toxic fumes.

This problem may not be so severe in the winter when the interior of the car does not heat up. In the summer the heat builds up inside the car can be at extremely dangerous levels.

Acceptable benzene level indoors is 50 mg per sq ft. A car parked indoors with the windows closed will contain 400-800 mg of benzene. If parked outdoors under the sun at a temperature above 40o C, the benzene level goes up to 2000-4000 mg, 40 times the acceptable level and the people inside the car will inevitably inhale an excess amount of the toxins.

To minimise these effects, do not turn on the A/C as soon as you enter and start the car. It is recommended that you open the windows and the door to give time for the interior to air out before you move off. Benzene is a toxin that affects your kidneys and liver, and it is very difficult for your body to expel this toxic stuff.

According to a research done, the dashboard and seats emit benzene, a cancer causing toxin (carcinogen — take note of the heated plastic smell in your car). In addition to causing cancer, it poisons your bones, causes anemia and reduces white blood cells. Prolonged exposure will cause leukemia, increasing the risk of cancer; it may also cause a miscarriage.

Drive off with the windows open and switch on the A/C after a few minutes. Only when the cool air is coming from the A/C vents, close the windows. The first few minutes of the drive may be uncomfortable but you are ensuring a safe environment for yourself and other car occupants.

Happy motoring.

Driver’s pick

Carry rubber or surgical gloves in the car to use while changing tyres. The tyres on your car are disgustingly filthy and unhygienic.