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Study Finds New-Car Smell Not Toxic

April 9, 2007

MUNICH, GERMANY – New-car smell is apparently non-toxic, although it might exacerbate allergies, new research suggests, according to the Web site The molecules responsible for the characteristic leathery, plastic aroma that suffuses new cars, are known as volatile organic compounds. These are regularly emitted from plastics, synthetic fabrics, upholstery, carpets, adhesives, paints, cleaning materials, and other sources.Toxicologist Jeroen Buters at the Technical University of Munich in Germany and his colleagues investigated the health effects of volatile organic compounds that cars emit. They focused on conditions mimicking those where the molecules would likely get emitted most in cars — when parked in hot sunshine.Buters and his colleagues first collected molecules from the air inside a new car and a three-year-old vehicle of the same brand placed under 14,000 watts of light, where temperatures reached up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. They next exposed these compounds to human, mouse, and hamster cells grown in lab dishes. These are commonly used to test toxicity.New-car smell does not appear to be toxic, the scientists found. Air from the new car did cause a slight aggravation of the immune response that could affect people with allergies, but the same was not seen with the older vehicle. The scientists detailed their findings in the Apr. 1 issue of the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
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