2012 Honda Civic Si CoupeEnlarge Photo
There’s nothing like the smell of a brand-new car, right? Actually, that the “new car smell” is bad for your health and that of children and pets, as it is composed of chemicals coming off the steering wheel, seats, armrests and dashboard.
A new study of toxic chemicals in new cars from the Ecology Center released on HealthyStuff.org sheds more light on the subject and it is interesting reading, to say the least. Officially, the study is called “The Consumer Action Guide to Toxic Chemicals in Cars.” Right at the outset, we’d like to point out that the best performer, or “least toxic” vehicle is the 2012 Honda Civic. More about that later.
Did you know that the average American spends more than 1.5 hours in a car every day? Over time, accumulated exposure to toxins being released in the vehicle, exacerbated by extreme heat trapped inside on hot days, may lead to health problems such as allergies, birth defects, learning impairment, liver toxicity, and cancer.
What are these chemicals? According to Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center, the chief culprits are bromine (associated with brominated flame retardants, or BFRs), chlorine (which indicates the presence of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC and plasticizers), lead and heavy metals.
“Automobiles function as chemical reactors, creating one of the most hazardous environments we spend time in,” said Gearhart.
Testing for chemical toxins - HealthyStuff.orgEnlarge Photo
This year’s testing involved more than 200 new vehicles on dealer lots. Gearhart added that there’s good news for consumers in that overall vehicle ratings are improving. The best vehicles today, according to the study, have eliminated hazardous flame retardants and PVC. The study further found that 17 percent of new vehicles today have interiors completely free of PVC, while 60 percent are produced without BFRs. See the list of PVC-free vehicles here and BFR-free vehicles here.
Back to the list of top performers in this year’s testing, the 2012 Honda Civic achieved the number one spot by being free of BFRs in all interior components, utilizing PVC-free interior fabrics and interior trim, and containing low levels of heavy metals and other metal allergens.
In addition, Honda is again the top-rated automaker for healthy interiors, as it has been since 2007.
2011 Toyota PriusEnlarge Photo
Second and third-best picks were the 2011 Toyota Prius and the 2011 Honda CR-Z. Coming in at number for was the 2011 Nissan Cube, while fifth place went to the 2012 Acura RDX.
On the other end of the spectrum, the bottom three performers, or the most toxic vehicles, were, in order, the 2011 Kia Soul, the 2011 Chrysler 200 SC, and the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport.
What can consumers do to minimize exposure to these toxic chemicals in cars? Besides selecting PVC-free and BFR-free vehicles when it comes time to buy, Gearhart advises that consumers ventilate the car frequently before getting in and to use a solar shade on the windshield to help minimize the heat and solar exposure on the windows. Check out the video below for more information about this year’s testing.