The Charity for Environmental Illness

Sick Car Syndrome

Ever wonder what that new car smell is?

Some people feel sick, some people are addicted to it, and for some it causes depression and tiredness – the air inside your car can be a toxic soup!baby in car seat

More than 275 different chemicals are used in the interiors of cars. These include bromine from brominated flame retardants (BFRs) which are added to plastics to make them less flammable, chlorine used for polyvinyl chloride (PVC) used for plastics and windshields, lead, and heavy metals. BFR exposure has been tied to thyroid problems, learning and memory impairment, decreased fertility, and behavioural changes while PVCs which contain chemicals called phthalates are linked to decreased fertility, and problems with the liver, testes, thyroid, ovaries, kidneys, and blood.

The World Health Organization has recognised interior air pollution of vehicles are a major threat to human health1 listing such compounds as, polybrominated diphenylesthers (PBDEs) and other brominated flame retardants (BFRs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phthalate plasticizers, hydrocarbons and particulate matter2. Among the common VOCs found in vehicles benzene, ehtybenzene and styrene are all known or suspected carcinogens3. Most exposure to these compounds is through ingestion of contaminated dust, and inhalation of dust, gases and vapours. All of these pollutants have been studied in detail and produce unique human health effects.

The first report of its kind by the Ecology Center — Toxic at Any Speed: Chemicals in Cars and the Need for Safe Alternatives — found significantly higher levels of PBDEs in vehicle dust and windscreen wiper samples than those found in homes and offices in previous studies.

The Ecology Center tested approximately 900 of the most popular vehicles in the U.S. market between model years 2006-2012. They ranked Honda as the top manufacturer for healthy car interiors with the Civic and CR-Z being in their top 3 ranking in 2012. (Hyundai-Kia has been the lowest ranked manufacturer for the last two years.) The Civic achieved its ranking by being free of bromine-based flame retardants in all interior components, utilizing PVC-free interior fabrics and interior trim, and low levels of heavy metals and other metal allergens.

Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are widely used in vehicles and children's car seats, added to materials to both inhibit their ignition and slow their rate of combustion. Commonly used examples include polybrominateddiphenyl ethers (PBDEs), hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) and tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA), as well as brominated polymeric and oligomeric materials. Worryingly heat and ultraviolet light can cause bromines and other chemicals to break down into new compounds. One common bromated flame retardant, deca-brominated diphenyl ether (decaBDE), can break down into pentaBDE and octaBDE, two chemicals potentially more threatening than the sum of their parts.rush hour

It’s not just people

The same chemicals that may cause human health problems due to exposure inside vehicles can also cause problems in the general environment. When vehicles are discarded at the end of their life, the majority of plastic and other non-metallic parts are shredded and put into landfills or burned in incinerators. When discarded in landfills, harmful chemicals contained in vehicle plastics and other materials can leach out and contaminate soil and water. When incinerated, toxic chemicals are dispersed throughout the atmosphere.

Top MCS Tips

  • ·       Clean the inside of your car regularly as the dust will be contaminated with chemical compounds. Use a damp microfibre cloth, not chemical cleaners. The upholstery can be cleaned with a hand held steam gun.
  • ·       Did you know fragrances can affect your mood and even cause depression? Get rid of the air freshener in your car and choose a chemical-free version. Try bicarbonate of soda to absorb smells, or opt for natural essential oils- place a few drops on a wooden ball or ceramic beads, and hang in place of your air freshener.
  • ·       Get an air purifier – if you suffer chemical sensitivity, various air purifiers are sold that can be used specifically in the car. Some are designed to remove traffic fumes, while others will deal with formaldehyde, chlorine etc from the interior furnishings. Check before you buy and make sure you can return it if it doesn’t suit.
  • ·       Some people react to air purifiers or air conditioning. It is usually the glues and varnish in the motor or filters. If this is a problem, ask the garage if you can take home a new pollen filter to outgas several months before it will need fitting. If you react to the heating in the car, it could be because the air is usually drawn over the engine before entering the vehicle.
  • ·       If you react to the smell of windscreen wiper fluid, replace it with a mixture of between 1:1 and 3:1 parts vinegar to water and a small bit of washing up liquid. Do not use too much detergent because it may leave a residue on your windscreen. (To prevent freezing down to 0F or -20C, you will need to add about 35% ethanol instead of the vinegar – try cheap vodka 80 proof, or 40% Ethanol.) For those who are less sensitive another option is: mix 1/2 to 1 pint of isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) and one tablespoon of any liquid detergent in a clean one-gallon (4.5 L) plastic bottle. Fill the bottle with water, cap, and shake well.
  • ·       Drive three car lengths back from the vehicle in front to reduce the traffic fumes entering your car. Even if you have the vents closed, fumes will still come in.
  • ·       Don’t keep the vents closed all the time as bacteria can build up in the air system that will need chemicals to clean! Run the heating through several times a year to blast any bugs out.
  • ·       Finally don't idle the car in the garage; carbon monoxide exposure can lead to weakness, nausea, disorientation, unconsciousness and even death. Fumes from cars or lawnmowers left running in enclosed spaces can endanger your health.

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1. Chen, Xiaokai, Guoqiang Zhang, and Hong Chen. “Controlling Strategies and Technologies of Volatile Organic Compounds Pollution in Interior Air of Cars.” International Conference on Digital Manufacturing and Automation. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineer, 2012. 450-453.

2. Muller, Daniel, Doris Klingelhofer, Stefanie Uibel, and David A. Groneberg. “Car Indoor Air Pollution - Analysis of Potential Sources.” Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology 6, no. 33 (2011).

3. Geiss, Otmar, Salvatore Tirendi, Josefa Barrero-Moreno, and Dimitrios Kotzias. “Investigation of Volatile Organic Compounds and Phthalates in the Cabin of Used Private Cars.” Environment International 35 (2009): 1188- 1195.

Read More

Ecology Center's 2011-2012  Guide to New Vehicles download here:

More information from: www.Healthy

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