This might come as a shock to a lot of people, but the new car smell that everyone raves about is actually very dangerous. In a new study, it has been found that doing long drives in new cars with this smell can cause cancer. According to a recent study by researchers at Harvard University and the Beijing Institute of Technology in China, driving a new automobile for a longer period could increase the chance of developing cancer, and even driving for as little as 20 minutes might expose one to dangerous quantities of harmful chemicals.
Using sensors to identify various substances, researchers investigated the air quality in new automobiles. The automobiles were tightly sealed and left outside “under varying environmental conditions” for 12 consecutive days. Formaldehyde, a pollutant that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claims may cause cancer, was found in the new automobiles at levels that were 34.9% higher than the Chinese national safety requirements. The possible human carcinogen acetaldehyde was also discovered to be present at levels that were 60.5% over Chinese national safety requirements.
The mixture of volatile organic compounds was discovered to be at concentrations that would be considered “a high potential health risk. “The chemicals that give new cars their distinctive odor constituted a “high health risk for drivers.” According to the study, “Deep calculation suggests that the inhalation route plays a significant role in the risk of cancer for exposed drivers and passengers.” Researchers also discovered that when the temperature rose, the concentration of compounds rose as well.
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For the benefit of those who may be curious, formaldehyde, which was referenced in the paper, is “a colorless, flammable gas at room temperature and has a strong odor,” according to the EPA. It is present in many items of daily home usage such as permanent press textiles, paints and coatings, lacquers, and finishes. Acetaldehyde, meanwhile, is a chemical that is utilized as “an intermediate in the synthesis of other chemicals,” according to the EPA, and is used to make basic colors, polyester resin, and fragrances.
This is not the first time that a study like this has been conducted. Back in 2021, experts from the University of California, Riverside also stated that driving a new automobile for a longer period of time could increase the chance of developing cancer, and even driving it for as little as 20 minutes might expose one to dangerous quantities of chemicals.
In its conclusion, the study reported, “This study highlights the potential risk associated with inhalation of benzene and formaldehyde for people who spend a significant amount of time in their vehicles. Furthermore, while the variability in chemical concentrations from countries with diverse climates may not be directly applicable to the state of California, this study provides a starting point for additional risk analyses.” It further stated, “As benzene and formaldehyde are on the Prop 65 list due to cancer and reproductive/developmental toxicity concerns, there is a need for more information on the potential association between commute time within vehicles and exposure to both of these chemicals.”
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