How toxic is your car?

Hi everyone!  I'm excited to start blogging again.  During my online silence, I've been hard at work offline on my first book, which is about environmental health at home.  Soon after my first child was born, I stumbled across upsetting information regarding environmental toxins -- endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins, reproductive toxins, and others -- that contribute to developmental and behavioral impairment in children.  What kept me up at night was learning that my daughter's exposure to these toxins would come mostly from our home, as a result of my purchasing decisions!  So I've been organizing my research from over the past five years to package them into a book that I would have loved as a gift for my wedding, baby shower or when I was in the maternity ward.  In addition to providing an overview to the topic, one that every parent should hear, the book will contain the practical tips that I've been collecting and prioritizing, tips that reduce my family's exposure to environmental toxins.  Stay tuned to learn more about the book!  I'm working hard to wrap it up.

In the meantime, I've been happy to see more news coverage on the topic.  For example, in May 2012, The Chicago Tribune published "Playing with Fire," an explosive, provocative and important investigative series on chemical flame retardants, which are found in a wide range of household products such as upholstered furniture, toys, nursing pillows, mattresses, high chairs and more. The New York Times followed up on the topic soon after.

Why should you care?

What worsens this story is that these chemical flame retardants don't offer meaningful value.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission oversaw tests conducted in 2009 tests that did not find flame retardants in foam to provide any significant protection.

Cars are another source of exposure. The articles in The Chicago Tribune and The New York Times point out that these chemical flame retardants pervade items throughout our households.  However, another significant source of exposure is from our cars. In February 2012, HealthyStuff.org published its fourth consumer guide to toxic chemicals in cars: The 2011/2012 Guide to New Vehicles.  These chemicals not only contribute to “new car smell,” but they can be inhaled as gas or inhaled or ingested as dust.  The concern is that they are linked to severe health impacts such as birth defects, learning disabilities and cancer.  Common VOCs found in vehicles include known or suspected carcinogens such as benzene, ehtybenzene and styrene.  The average American spends more than 1.5 hours, or 5.5% of their time, in a car every day.  Therefore, toxic chemical exposure inside vehicles can be a major source of indoor air pollution.  The World Health Organization recognizes interior air pollution of vehicles as a major threat to human health.

What can you do?  

  • If you're in the process of buying a new car, then consider information in The 2011/2012 Guide to New Vehicles by The Ecology Center.  This guide provides important perspective (including ratings) on the toxicity levels of various car models.
  • Regularly clean your car: vacuum and wipe surfaces with a wet microfiber cloth to fight the dust.
  • Keep your car in shaded areas since heat can cause more toxic fumes to be released from the car's interior materials.
  • Minimize clutter in your car.  Since many things release chemicals as gas or dust, the more stuff in your car the more potential sources of toxic fumes and dust.
  • Ventilate your car regularly to allow toxic vapors from the interior car materials to escape.
  • Washing hands frequently is a high impact tip for a variety of reasons, including minimizing absorption and ingestion of toxic chemicals.
  • Consider your children's car seats.  Most contain chemical flame retardants.  What are healthier options?

 

    • At $380, however, the Orbit car seat is pricey.  Another alternative is to keep your current car seat but replace its cushioning / seat cover with an organic one.  After an online search, Nollie Covers provides low toxic options. Using organic cotton and wool, Nollie Covers sells covers for popular brands such as  for Britax, Peg Perego and Graco car seats.  At $248 per cover, this is a less expensive purchase than the Orbit car seat.

With the recent addition of our third child, I purchased both an Orbit car seat for our middle child and a NollieCover for an existing car seat for our infant.  I've been happy with both! (There are other options as well, among them: Other Organic Car Seat Covers)

 

Sources: The Chicago Tribune published "Playing with Fire;" The New York Times; the Environmental Working Group; and HealthyStuff.org: 2011/2012 Guide to New Vehicles by The Ecology Center; February 2012.  

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