A recent study published in Cell Reports Physical Science has found that the new car smell may not be as pleasant as we once thought. The study, conducted by researchers from the Beijing Institute of Technology and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, discovered that a new mid-size sports utility vehicle (SUV) plug-in hybrid electric contained levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that exceeded Chinese national safety standards. VOCs are gaseous chemicals that a solid object or material may emit, and many of them are potentially cancer-causing. Formaldehyde, benzene, acetaldehyde, ethylbenzene, and styrene are some of the VOCs found in the SUV that was tested.
While it's not clear how long the insides of a car may keep shedding these VOCs and at what level, it's evident that breathing in such chemicals is not a good thing. It's time for car manufacturers to reconsider the materials they use to line the insides of a vehicle, such as plastic, imitation leather, and woven cloth or felt. Can they use materials that won’t have VOCs flying off the handle? Moreover, cars aren’t the only things that may be emitting VOCs into the air. As a growing number of things around us are made out of synthetic materials, an increasing number of chemicals may be up in the air around us.
It's important to consider the potential health risks associated with VOCs, especially given that Americans spend an average of over 50 minutes driving each day. While keeping car windows open could help ventilate the insides of the car and reduce exposure, it's not always practical in certain weather conditions. It's also essential to note that while the emitting could be highest when the vehicle is new, it doesn’t look like it's just a new car thing, as a 2021 publication in the journal Environment International cited a number of other earlier studies that found potentially dangerous VOCs in the cabins of vehicles, some new, some old.
In conclusion, while the new car smell may be appealing, it's essential to consider the potential risks associated with VOCs. It's time for car manufacturers to reconsider the materials they use inside vehicles to reduce exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals.