Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which include components that give new cars a characteristic leathery, plasticky aroma, have no detectable toxicity in laboratory cell cultures, aside from causing a slight aggravation of the immune response that could affect people with allergies. That is the conclusion of a new study done by scientists in Germany and published in the April 1 issue of ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.
Jeroen T. M. Buters and colleagues point out that occupants of cars inhale VOCs emitted from plastics, synthetic fabrics, upholstery, carpets, adhesives, paints, cleaning materials and other sources. Some regard that scent, as part of VOCs — especially noticeable in a new vehicle — as pleasant and seductive, while others regard it as objectionable. The researchers set out to test the health effects of VOCs emitted under worst-case conditions in which the vehicles were parked in hot sunshine that would maximize release of the compounds.
They collected VOCs from the air inside a new vehicle and a 3-year-old vehicle and tested extracts on culture of human and other cells commonly used to assay toxicity. Air from the new vehicle, but not the older model, had an aggravating effect in an immune response model that could be a concern for individuals with allergy, the researchers found. Otherwise they found no indications of toxicity. "Our investigations indicated no apparent health hazard of parked motor vehicle indoor air," the study concluded.
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