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These Toxins Could Be Lurking In Your Vehicle

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

It is always important to take every precaution to keep you and your children safe when getting behind the wheel. As a parent, being aware of all the possible dangers that your child could face in the car is essential for a safe car ride. We all know about the importance of car seat safety. However, some car dangers are not very well known.

Many car owners are unaware of the hidden dangers lurking in vehicles, like toxins that could be dangerous to your children’s health and your own.

But don’t worry, there are proven ways to lower the risk of exposure to these chemicals and keep your vehicle safe. (I’ll share those later.)

toxins in car

Toxins inside your car

Benzene In Your Dashboard

Did you know that your car dashboard can emit dangerous toxins, especially in the hotter months of the year? The toxin to worry about is benzene. This chemical can be clear or appear as a very bright yellow, which can make it hard to detect.

Being exposed to benzene can put you at a higher risk of developing cancer. A child exposed to benzene is also at a higher risk of developing blood-related disorders.

The most common way people are exposed to benzene is by breathing in air that is contaminated by the chemical. This includes the air that is trapped in your car when you first enter. This can happen due to your car interiors made of plastic overheating and releasing this toxin.

If you park outdoors, the amount of benzene trapped in your car will increase dramatically during the hotter months. So when entering your car, it is important not to turn on your air conditioning immediately. Instead, wait a couple of minutes with your car windows rolled down before cranking that cold air. Doing this helps ventilate your car and releases the trapped benzene.

Flame Retardants Used In Car Interiors and Child Car Seats

Another part of your car’s interior you have to be weary of is actually something that’s supposed to keep your child safe, their car seat. A car seat is a must-have item to protect infants and children in the event of a crash. That said, parents need to understand the health risks associated with car seats — despite the obvious benefits they offer when it comes to physical safety in a crash.

Why use them anyway?

But first, since flame retardants can potentially cause health concerns, why use them in car seats?

In 1969, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) saw a need to address fire safety in cars. The goal was to reduce burn injuries during vehicle fires — specifically those caused from discarded cigarettes and matches — by slowing the spread so occupants can get out of the car. In 1971, NHTSA passed Federal Vehicle Safety Standard 302 which requires interior car parts to pass a flammability test.

The cheapest and easiest way to meet these new standards was to use chemical flame retardants. Whether or not they knew at the time the health risks these toxins posed is unknown. Fast forward to present day, we do know the toxicity of some of the chemicals used. Many would say FMVSS 302 is an outdated standard that exposes children to dangerous toxins.

The chemicals used in flame retardants can enter the body by being inhaled, ingested or by making direct contact with the skin. Exposure to these chemicals can put you or your child at risk for serious health concerns such as cancer, diabetes and developmental disorders. Flame retardant exposure among children has also been linked to reading disabilities and ADHD. Children are at higher risk of the dangers due to their tendencies to touch items and then proceeding to touch their eyes, nose and mouth.

How common are they?

Recently, toxic chemical flame retardants have been linked to being found in more than 50% of car seats. It may be alarming to see that such a high percentage of car seats use flame retardants, but fortunately there are safer options for your children.

Some car seat manufacturers are substituting chemicals, like organic cyclic phosphonate, to replace flame retardant compounds that are known to be harmful, like brominated fire retardants. For instance, RideSafer uses fabric with organic phosphonate diluted with water woven into the fabric of the vest.

Some car seat manufacturers are designing car seats that don’t need added chemical fire retardant to be able to pass the flammability test. For instance, UPPAbaby designed a flame-retardant-free seat using a Merino Wool fabric specially woven to naturally resist flames. Chicco, Nuna, Clek, Orbit Baby and Maxi-Cosi are some other manufacturers making car seat options without chemical flame retardant.

But you can’t throw the car seat out and be free of chemical flame retardants inside your car.

Any component within 13mm of the occupant compartment air space must meet the requirements of this test. That means these other common parts of the car likely contain chemical flame retardants:

  • Vehicle seat cushions
  • Sun visors
  • Arm rests
  • Seat belts
  • Floor coverings
  • and more…

Formaldehyde & Other Toxins In Your Car

There are many more toxins potentially in your vehicle also referred to as VOCs (volatile organic compounds), like formaldehyde. Not only is it the most commonly known VOC, but a study shows that it is actually found to be the most toxic.

Exposure to formaldehyde can cause eye, throat and nose irritation short term. But long term exposure can lead to much more serious health complications like certain types of cancer and asthma. Formaldehyde based technologies are used in the leather, carpets and paints of your vehicle for lightweight and durability purposes.

Toxins Lurking Under Your Vehicle

Formaldehyde has also been linked to being under your car as well. A common place formaldehyde can be found is in your brake pads due to its light-weight and durability properties. However there could be other toxins lurking under your car that could be a harm to your children if exposed.

The toxin, asbestos, has been used in many different car parts for its ability to withstand high pressures, and also because it has good friction control. Similar to flame retardants, this toxin can be a danger to your children and yourself, if exposed. The most commonly used form of asbestos in car parts is chrysotile asbestos, which is used in 35-60% of car parts. Some of the most common car parts containing asbestos include:

  • Brake pads
  • Mufflers
  • Gaskets

Exposure to asbestos can be extremely serious. If exposed, it could eventually lead to the development of the rare cancer, Mesothelioma, which most commonly attacks the lungs and abdomen. This is why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends assuming all car parts that might contain asbestos do contain asbestos.

You and your children can be exposed through DIY car repairs due to the microfibers becoming airborne and inhaling them. There is NO safe way to identify asbestos containing materials, so it is important to take all precautions necessary if you conduct car repairs at your home.

Best Practices To Prevent Toxin Exposure

Now that you know where to find these toxins in your vehicle, it is important to learn ways that you can limit and possibly prevent toxin exposure to your children.

Preventing Exposure In Your Car

The ways that you can prevent exposure to toxins like benzene and flame retardants in your car include a series of practices such as:

  • Making sure to keep your car ventilated. Heat can increase the amount of toxins in your car. Try parking in the shade and rolling down your windows to let your car air out before blasting that A/C.
  • Don’t let your children sit in your car for a long period of time while parked. (Never leave your child alone in the car.) Doing this can expose your kids to the toxins that are trapped in your car. If you and your child are going to sit in the car for a few minutes, make sure the car is at least properly ventilated.
  • Wipe your car seats and car interior down with a non-toxic cleaner. Doing so will help remove the toxins that may be resting on the surface.

Preventing Exposure Under Your Car

If you’re a parent who does car repairs at home, there are ways you can be safe while doing it and limit the possible exposure to your children. This includes:

  • Simply make sure your child is NOT near you while performing these repairs. Making sure your child cannot be exposed to toxins first hand is an important first step.
  • Damping the car parts will also help limit exposure. This will help with the micro fibers not going airborne and leaving a threat of being inhaled.
  • Wiping down your car parts with a non-toxic cleaner will also help eliminate toxins on the product.
  • Using a proper vacuum — NOT a regular household vacuum — to suck up debris.

Better Safe Than Sorry!

Although some of these practices may seem tedious, they will go a long way in keeping your and your children’s health out of danger. It may feel scary knowing all these toxins could potentially be in your car. But with the information provided, you will be able to make sure your child will have happy and healthy rides from car seat to getting their license and driving off themselves!

Guest post: Gabe A. is a health advocate who specializes in writing about health safety. In his spare time he enjoys being active and spending time with his 3 dogs.

man64 | depositphotos

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