Top 10 Most Toxic Interiors
Today the Ecology Center released the first-ever consumer guide to toxic chemicals in cars at www.healthycar.org. Over 200 of the most popular 2006- and 2007-model vehicles in the U.S. were tested for chemicals that off-gas from indoor auto parts such as the steering wheel, dashboard, armrests and seats. These chemicals become part of the air we breathe contributing to "new car smell" and a variety of acute and long-term health concerns. Since the average American spends more than 1.5 hours in a car every day, toxic chemical exposure inside vehicles is a major source of potential indoor air pollution.
The good news is that some cars are better than others. Toxic chemicals are not required to make indoor auto parts, and some manufacturers have begun to phase them out. Chemicals of primary concern include: bromine (associated with brominated flame retardants); chlorine (indicating the presence of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC and plasticizers); lead; and heavy metals. Such chemicals have been linked to a wide range of health problems such as allergies, birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, and cancer.
Following are the 10 best and 10 worst of the cars that were tested. GM’s Chevy brand had the distinction of both best and worst pick in our samples, with the Cobalt scoring first and Silverado truck scoring last. Brands that fared well included Volvo and Honda/Acura, both with two models in the top ten. Kia/Hyundai joined Chevy with three entries in the worst ten.
Top Best Picks
- Chevrolet Cobalt - small car 0.5
- Chrysler PT Cruiser - SUV 0.8
- Honda Odyssey - minivan 0.8
- VolVo V50 - station wagon 0.8
- Suzuki Aerio - station wagon 0.8
- Acura RDX Tech - SUV 0.8
- BMW X3 - SUV 0.9
- Nissan Frontier - pickup truck 1.0
- Toyota Matrix - station wagon 1.0
- Volvo S40 - upscale sedan 1.0
Ten Worst Picks
- Nissan Versa - small car 5.0
- Chevrolet Aveo - small car 4.4
- Scion xB 5dr - station wagon 4.3
- Kia Rio - small car 4.2
- Suzuki Forenza - station wagon 4.1
- Kia Spectra 5 - family sedan 4.0
- Chevrolet Express - heavy duty
- Hyundai Accent - small car 3.9
- Chevrolet Silverado - pickup truck 3.8
"Our findings show that it is not necessary to use toxic chemicals when making indoor auto parts," said Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center’s Clean Car Campaign Director. "There is no excuse for manufacturers not to replace these hazardous chemicals with safe alternatives immediately."
To sample the vehicles, experts at the Ecology Center used a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device, which identifies the elemental composition of any material in less than 60 seconds. In each vehicle 15 different components were sampled including: steering wheel, shift knob, armrest/center console, dashboard, headliner, carpet, seat front, seat back, seat base, hard door trim, soft door trim, body sealer, wiring, window seal and wheel weights. Components sampled were those most likely to be touched or otherwise contribute to human exposure.
While there are numerous substances in vehicles that can lead to health and environmental problems, HealthyCar.org selected those with known toxicity, persistence, and tendency to build up in people and the environment. These chemicals included:
Bromine: Associated with the use of brominated flame retardants, BFRs are added to plastics in order to impart fire resistance, but they are released into the environment over the life of the vehicle. Heat and UV-ray exposure in cars can accelerate the breakdown of these chemicals and possibly increase their toxicity. Some BFRs have been associated with thyroid problems, learning and memory impairment, decreased fertility, behavioral changes, and other health problems.
Chlorine: Associated with the use of polyvinyl chloride, PVC is a widely used type of plastic that is of concern to the environment and public health during all phases of its life cycle. PVC contains chemicals called phthalates, some of which have been associated with decreased fertility, pre-term deliveries, and damage to the liver, testes, thyroid, ovaries, kidneys, and blood. There is also evidence that phthalates can pass from mothers to babies through the placenta and through breast milk.
Lead: Lead is sometimes used as an additive in automotive plastics. Exposure can lead to a number of potential health effects including brain damage, and problems with the kidneys, blood, nerves, and reproductive system. It can also cause learning and behavioral problems.
Other: Other chemicals tested as part of healthycar.org include antimony, arsenic, chromium, cobalt, copper, mercury, nickel and tin. The substances in this category are allergens, carcinogens, or cause other adverse health impacts depending on the concentrations and exposure levels.
The same chemicals that cause human health issues can also cause problems in the environment. When vehicles are discarded at the end of their life, the majority of plastic and other non-metallic parts are shredded and put in landfills or burned in incinerators. When discarded in landfills, harmful chemicals contained in vehicle plastics can leach out and contaminate soil and water. When incinerated, toxic chemicals are dispersed throughout the atmosphere.
"HealthyCar.Org is intended to help people make safer choices when it comes to purchasing a vehicle," said Gearhart. "Hopefully manufacturers will begin to get the message and make all of their future cars safe for drivers and passengers."