A sampling of the many harmful chemicals present in new cars that could be harming you. Shown above is the Chevy Aveo, which scored the worst on the Ecology Center's list.(Ecology Center)

    by: Kirk Seaman, AOL Autos

    For many, the new-car smell is a bonus that comes with buying a new vehicle — an olfactory reward to enjoy each time the owner slides behind the wheel.

    That smell, however, also could make them — and their passengers — sick.

    That's because the plastics and textiles used in vehicle interiors contain a number of harmful chemicals, including antimony, bromine, chlorine, and lead. Repeated and concentrated exposure to any of these chemicals may contribute to a variety of acute and long-term health issues such as birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, and cancer.

    Not only are vehicle occupants exposed to these chemicals by breathing, but frequent exposure to the sun's heat and ultraviolet light can increase interior levels of these chemicals and possibly exacerbate their toxicity.

    When these conditions combine with the fact that the average American spends almost two hours in a car every day, the potential exists for vehicle interiors to become a major source of indoor air pollution. Children, with their systems still developing, are most vulnerable to such exposure.

    The visible evidence of chemicals being released into interiors is the film that sometimes appears on the inside of windshields. Known as "fogging," this phenomenon occurs when chemicals in the materials of the interior evaporate and then condense on the windshield or windows. This process happens over time, but accelerates in high temperatures.

    To educate consumers, the Ecology Center, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group located in Ann Arbor, Mich., has been publishing a guide to toxic chemicals in cars since 2007.

    "Our first guide reported results from more than 200 models from the 2006 and 2007 model years, representing 12 different manufacturers," said Jeff Gearhart, research director for the Ecology Center. "We found concentrations of some toxic chemicals were, on average, five to ten times higher than those found in homes and offices."

    Experts at the Ecology Center test vehicles with a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device which can identify the elemental composition of any material. "We test a number of components, including the seats, the dashboard, and headliner," said Mr. Gearhart. "These large components represent major sources of the chemicals we are concerned about."

    Since its first report, the Ecology Center has worked with auto manufacturers to use less-toxic materials in vehicle interiors. Based on the findings in its most recent guide, available online at HealthyStuff.org, the efforts seem to be working. "The scores have improved each year, and for 2009, the Chevrolet Cobalt was our best overall vehicle," said Gearhart. "This marks the first time a car built in the United States by a U.S.-owned company has earned this distinction."

    HealthyStuff.org Best Picks

    Pontiac G5Small Car0.6
    Chevy CobaltSmall Car0.7
    Toyota CorollaSmall Car0.7
    Honda AccordFamily Sedan0.7
    Nissan Cube KromStation Wagon0.7
    Honda Insight Hybrid Small Car0.8
    Jeep WranglerSUV0.8
    Toyota PriusFamily Sedan0.8
    Honda Civic HybridSmall Car0.9

    Source: HealthyStuff.org

    The Cobalt tested with the least amount of toxic chemicals in its interior plastics and textiles, earning it a rating of 0.7 on the center's scale. The scale awards a rating of 0.0 to a vehicle with no detectable levels of objectionable chemicals; the worst offender gets a rating of 5.0. (The Cobalt's corporate cousin, the 2009 Pontiac G5, earned a rating of 0.6, but it is no longer available.) The vehicle with the worst rating on the 2009 list was the South Korean–built Chevrolet Aveo, which earned a rating of 4.9.

    "We're pleased with the Cobalt's performance in this guide," said Doug Pickett, engineering group manager for materials engineering at General Motors. "The fact that six of the best vehicles by type are from G.M. shows that this issue has been important to us for a while."

    While the Cobalt received top honors, Mr. Pickett explained that the Aveo's poor showing was the result of that car's reliance on older materials technology. "As a vehicle moves through its product cycle, we are able to incorporate less toxic materials into its updated design," he said. "This shows we are listening to our customers and that what is important to them, like less toxic interiors, is important to us."

    Working with automotive suppliers and the plastics industry has proved essential to G.M. and other manufacturers in developing and manufacturing plastics that contain less-harmful chemicals. "Rather than dictate how to formulate plastics, we provide a list of more than a hundred chemicals banned in our vehicles, including formaldehyde and Class 1 carcinogens such as benzene," said Mr. Pickett. "This approach helps ensure the plastic is safe and remains safe throughout its life cycle."

    HealthyStuff.org Worst Picks

    Chevy AveoSmall Car4.9
    Mitsubishi EclipseSport/Sporty Car4.7
    Hyundai TucsonSUV4.1
    Mitsubishi Eclipse SpyderConvertible3.9
    Volkswagen JettaSmall Car3.9
    Chevrolet ImpalaLarge Sedan3.7
    Volkswagen BeetleSmall Car3.7
    Volkswagen EosConvertible3.5
    Ford ExpeditionSUV3.4
    Audi TT Roadster 2.0 FWDSport/Sporty Car3.3

    Source: HealthyStuff.org

    Using less-toxic materials isn't just good for vehicle occupants. It also benefits the workers who build the vehicles and helps reduce the environmental considerations at the end of the vehicle's useful life. "When a vehicle is scrapped, the majority of its plastics often end up in a landfill," said the Ecology Center's Mr. Gearhart. "This releases both known and unknown chemical hazards into the environment."

    What, then, can concerned owners do to lessen the potential toxicity of their vehicle interiors? "Limit solar exposure with a sun shade or by parking in a garage or shaded area whenever possible to reduce interior temperatures," Mr. Gearhart said. "Leave the windows down for five minutes before you get in. And weekly vacuuming can remove any harmful dust that accumulates."

    For new-car buyers, Mr. Gearhart recommended using the guide to toxic interiors much as they would "Consumer Reports" or fuel economy information. "Consumers can use the guide to narrow the list of vehicles they want to shop, and then arrange an extended test-drive to note any possible sensitivities. It's easier to do the research before purchasing a vehicle than trying to return it after an issue arises."

    From a broader perspective, said Mr. Gearhart, reducing the levels of toxic chemicals in vehicle interiors comes down to public policy. "Legislation is being drafted to reform the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act, which is the federal law for regulating chemicals," he said. "The Environmental Protection Agency only requires testing on about 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals now on the market since the law was first passed in 1976. Reforming this legislation would phase out the most dangerous chemicals from the manufacturing process, require industry to take responsibility for product safety, and use the best science to protect those who are most vulnerable to exposure."

    Read More:

    - Gallery: Toxic Car Interiors
    - Car Safety on AOL Autos
    - Research New Cars on AOL Autos

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    1 - 20 of 38 Comments
    gpavelonis Nov 17, 2010 3:30 PM
    Man! you got to be kidding. We're spending money on this. People are absolutly nuts these days. We should be worried about the US deficit instead of this right now. He He He, there won't be a United States if all were concerned about is the smell of the interior of a new car. Everyone should be musseled and corked to keep the toxic contributions each human being imparts into the environment. This absolutly shows how paranoid people are these days.
    Report This
    jamescross13 Feb 16, 2010 11:29 AM
    mestang2003 is a sucker to think EPA standards have any meaning, toxins are dangerous, and so is ignorance
    Report This
    mariamedinaf Feb 16, 2010 8:31 AM
    Report This
    vip3333 Feb 04, 2010 12:54 AM
    Glad I read this article. Now I know not to chew on my shift knob and lick my door panels any more.
    Report This
    tgrbr43 Jan 30, 2010 11:31 PM
    Close to 20 years ago I was exposed to chemicals in a new car and it nearly killed me. I certainly wasn't paranoid about chemicals at the time. I knew they were making me sick but figured it would be temporary. I rolled down the windows and continued driving the car. I ended up on a feeding tube because it caused paralysis to my stomach, in a wheelchair for years with a severely damaged nervous system with heart rates close to 200 constantly. If I would have known about the dangers of chemicals in new cars back then or had my doctors known, I would have stayed out of the car as soon as I started feeling sick and could have avoided a lot of the permanent damage.
    Report This
    sreid26017 Jan 25, 2010 6:03 PM
    Human gas is more toxic than what's in new cars!!
    Report This
    mestang2003 Jan 25, 2010 4:53 PM
    Hey Kirk Sperm or Seaman or who ever you are the levels of toxins your talking about are far below EPA standards to be considered unhealthy do some reserch before you pubish a garbage article like this, you are an irresponsible journalist.
    Report This
    sreid26017 Jan 25, 2010 1:26 PM
    I drive new cars and trucks every day for the last 40+ years Im still alive! I have been involved with many thousands of new car purchases also and never have heard an issue BOGUS scare tactac's at best thank sagain AOL for such a factual and defaming report!!!! Are you owned by the bias consumer reports? It's time to change my internet provider service AOL is the worst.
    Report This
    cidpusaorg Jan 24, 2010 9:21 PM
    healthy cars and leads to good health, all plastics are toxins, need natural fibers and lets see if people start useing jute This is what cidpusa.org was writing that Jute has no chemicals like the plastics
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    vmo3157787 Jan 24, 2010 8:37 PM
    We all know who is paying u, to write these negative comments about American cars I bet there are many Japanese and Korean cars with these same materials but u, won't mention them because v, all know who is paying u, off It's Americans like u, who are doing the most damage 2, our nation
    Report This
    salblossom Jan 24, 2010 8:13 PM
    DON'T CARE AND DON'T TRUST! The fascist run GM and AOL are too close in the bed for me to accept anything that is set forth about GM. They sold their souls to each other and promote only the lefts causes and mantra. Aol has ended all political comments/debate and I am suppose to believe AOL, while promoting GM is allowing debate/comment? Sell your soul and pay the price. BUT, then you "Modern" Progressives are still the same o communist party. Let me tell the truth about the cover up label of Hilliary Clinton's "Modern Progressvie". Used to be called the Communist Party, when found out, just how wicked they are, they changed the label to Progressives and then Liberals, when we realized that was a cover for communist party, they changed to, according to Hilliary Clinton, "Modern Progressive" and she was so proud and with a her trade mark smirk, she glowed. When my GM vehicle, parked in our drive way, is sold or traded it will be for that GOOD OLD AMERICAN CRUNCH TIME FORD COMPANY, they make a better vehicle anyway, especially in light of Obama's firing of a CEO of GM, who was accepted by the stock holders, and that old American Way, was raped by ObamaCare, because of his deals with GM Unions. To hell with you non patriots. Anyone continuing to work for these mongrels or selling their souls for a bowl of porridge.
    Report This
    joanmallon1 Jan 24, 2010 7:59 PM
    New Car smell makes me very sick very quickly ( asthma and allergy) but I love a new car. I have found that if you spray all surfaces with Lysol including in the air conditioner vents you get rid of the new car smell and what ever makes me personally sick.
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    revaddiep Jan 24, 2010 7:04 PM
    Where is the US Congress? They are allowing big business to make us sick with harmful chemicals, but they refuse to pass a health care bill so that we at least get the medical care we need after we get sick! Where is the US Congress?
    Report This
    rdfont Jan 24, 2010 6:56 PM
    For those dealing with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, there is an organization called The Environmental Health Network, CA. For help... EHNCA.ORG. 1-415-451-5075, P.O. Box 1155, Larkspur, CA 94979.
    Report This
    danbycoop Jan 24, 2010 6:46 PM
    just to address a point made above ,cars made years ago did not have modern materials in them .They had naturaly occouring materials like walnut dashboards and leather and trim , So we have yet to see the results of these modern materials on peoples lifetime health.
    Report This
    c1colors Jan 24, 2010 6:33 PM
    You've got to be kidding. This article is a joke. I don't doubt that all of the chemicals pointed out in the article are present in the materials (dash, upholstery. door panels,carpets, etc.). The lead , antimony, and bromine are necessary for processing and fire retardant properties. The chlorine /pvc is the plastic that some of the items are made of (as in PVC aka vinyl). What are the dangers of the chemicals mentioned to an occupant of the suspect vehicles; are they breathing and ingesting, chlorine gas, lead compounds, antimony and so on. The hazard is probably more to the workers who produce the parts that the chemicals are used in, and appropriate precautions can be taken to protect them.
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    billtstrong Jan 24, 2010 5:55 PM
    There were brand new cars off the first assembly line about 80 or 90 years ago weren't there? And life spans are still getting longer. This includes youthful part of lifespans too. It's been about three months since AOL punks posted an alarming article about when the next ten mile diameter asteroid will strike earth. I think another alarming article is way overdue!
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    keleenbailey Jan 24, 2010 5:21 PM
    I was diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities in my 40s. My dad sold new cars for the 18 years I was at home and we drove a new car every year. I hated the smell and now get quite ill if I am exposed to it. I do believe it was one of the precursors of my illness. Keleen
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    levi1231 Jan 24, 2010 4:57 PM
    Shocking yes, but i find it more shocking that aside from in this article the cars rated on the worst list have links the the cars for sale, but give no mention of the horrible toxic side effects inside the cars description.... i feel that is something that should be mandated to be shown if it is really as bad as it seems to be in this article
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    b8minor Jan 24, 2010 4:33 PM
    Honestly , IF their is that BIG of a toxic terror in a new car's Interior , then every NEW CAR made should be sold with an Ionic Air Purifering system and given Instuctions with test kits of which after that Ionic Air Purifier Time has been meet , the Auto's Interior Air at a specified Outside Air Temperature be tested and then when Alls Clear , you can and should desire to ************ maintain that Interior Ionic Air Purification system , If not then turn it Off and enjoy your nice air poluted exterior air ways ! lol
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    For many, the new-car smell is a bonus that comes with buying a vehicle — a reward to enjoy each time the owner slides behind the wheel. That smell, however, also could make them sick.


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