People Are Breathing In Cancer-Causing Chemicals In Their Cars, Study Finds

Warmer weather was linked to higher flame retardant concentrations. (Representative pic)

People are breathing in cancer-causing chemicals when they’re in their car, a new research has found. For the study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, researchers analysed the cabin air of 101 electric, gas and hybrid cars with a model year between 2015 and 2022. They found that 99% of cars contained a flame retardant called TCIPP, which is under investigation by the US National Toxicology Program as a potential carcinogen. Most cars also had two more flame retardants, TDCIPP and TCEP, which are considered carcinogenic. These flame retardants are linked to neurological and reproductive harms as well, scientists said. 

“Considering the average driver spends about an hour in the car every day, this is a significant public health issue,” said Rebecca Hoehn, lead researcher and toxicology scientist at Duke University, according to People

“It’s particularly concerning for drivers with longer commutes as well as child passengers, who breathe more air pound for pound than adults,” she added. 

The study found that the levels of toxic flame retardants were highest in the summer as heat increases the release of chemicals from the car materials. The researchers said that the source of the cancer-causing compounds in the cabin air is seat foam. Car manufacturers add the chemicals to seat foam and other materials to meet an “outdated” flammability standard with no proven fire-safety benefit, they explained. 

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Patrick Morrison, director of health, safety and medicine for the International Association of Fire Fighters, said, “Firefighters are concerned that flame retardants contribute to their very high cancer rates. Filling products with these harmful chemicals does little to prevent fires for most uses and instead makes the blazes smokier and more toxic for victims, and especially for first responders”. 

“I urge NHTSA (US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) to update their flammability standard to be met without flame retardant chemicals inside vehicles,” he added. 

In the study, researchers also insisted that these toxic flame retardants serve no real benefit inside vehicles. 

Lydia Jahl, study author and senior scientist at the Green Science Policy Institute said people might be able to reduce their exposure to the toxic flame retardants by opening car windows and parking in the shade or in garages. “But what’s really needed is reducing the amount of flame retardants being added to cars in the first place. Commuting to work shouldn’t come with a cancer risk, and children shouldn’t breathe in chemicals that can harm their brains on their way to school,” she added.