Drivers typically love the new car smell that comes with a car purchase. The common odor has become connected to the thrill of having a new vehicle. There are even air fresheners that imitate this smell. However, car fumes are known to induce sickness in many people, and research shows that the highly desired new car smell creates numerous health risks. One of these threats is the appearance of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are hazardous chemicals with molecules that easily evaporate and enter the air.
The Dangers of VOCs
Most VOCs cause great damage to human health or the environment. The compounds are varied, omnipresent and include natural and manmade compounds. Typically, the concentrations are low and the symptoms form slowly, so researching the makeup and effects of VOCs is complicated.
Manmade VOCs are used in car paints and coatings. Solvents are used for protective or cosmetic film. Benzene is another VOC that is a proven carcinogen. It is a chemical discovered in fuel, tobacco smoke and car exhaust. Its natural sources include forest fires and volcanoes. Benzene has fast evaporation, and the vapor weighs more than air so that it descends into low-lying areas. Benzene is a known contaminant of water and food and if consumed can cause vomiting, faintness, drowsiness, fast heart rates and even death.
The Health Effects
Manmade VOCs and other contaminants create negative immune and respiratory effects in children. Some VOCs react with other chemicals or the ozone to create new sensory irritations. VOCs also contribute to the formation of smog. Typical health effects include irritations of the eyes, nose, and throat; loss of balance; queasiness and organ damage. Some compounds are proven to cause cancer in humans and animals.
The Varying Effects
As with other contaminants, health consequences are based on different factors like exposure level and time. Some immediate symptoms include headaches, visual problems and eye and respiratory tract inflammations. Enough information is known about the health consequences to know that certain organics levels are harmful in homes.
How to Lower Exposure
To lower toxic exposure, people are recommended to buy products that have little to no VOCs present. When buying items that have VOCs, it is important to look at the amount given and refrain from stockpiling the products. The products should be used in well-ventilated places. However, even if builders apply the most effective ventilation and mechanical systems they can, it is the task of the resident to sustain quality indoor air levels.
Peter Wendt is a freelance writer in the Austin, TX area. When he’s not writing, he enjoys road trips and the fresh air provided by his portable HEPA air purifier.