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Indoor Air Pollution: Not Just for Buildings

As we noted, indoor air quality in your home or office can be 10 times worse than the air quality outside; cause for some concern, for sure, since we spend about 9 out of every 10 hours inside. However, the quality of the air can be much worse where many of us probably spend that 10th hour: in our cars.

That’s right; according to a study by the Osaka Institute of Public Health, air quality inside cars can be 35 times worse than the air quality outside. The study, headed up by public health researcher Toshiaki Yoshida and cited by the Telegraph [www.telegraph.co.uk], found that it took three years for the level in cars to fall below the limit set for vehicles by the Japanese health ministry. The air inside a new minivan every week for the first two months and every month after that; on the day after delivery, the van was found to contain 113 kinds of volatile organic chemicals, mostly hydrocarbons. It took four months to fall below the safe limit set by the state but shot above it again in the hot summer months even after two years. Yikes.

That “new car smell” is the result of the steering wheel, dashboard, armrests, and seats (among other parts) off-gassing nasty things like chlorine, bromine, lead, mercury and other chemicals and toxins that are not good for breathing and not good for human health. The nasties tend to volatilize more quickly when it’s hot outside, essentially “baking” out of the plastics and foams, so it makes sense that summertime is more treacherous. What to do?

First of all, check out HealthyCar.org [www.healthycar.org], who launched as a consumer guide to healthier car interiors earlier this year. They tested over 200 of the most popular 2006-2007 model year cars, and, using a portable X-Ray Fluorescence device, determined which are the most and least toxic. The Chevy Cobalt, Chrysler PT Cruiser and Honda Odyssey were among the best (least toxic) picks, while the Nissan Versa, Chevy Aveo and the Scion xB 5dr were among the worst. Download the full report here [www.healthycar.org] or search by model [www.healthycar.org] to determine where your car fits on the spectrum, or to help you make a choice when picking out a new ride.

They also have tips to avoid getting gassed while you ride: since UV rays and heat accelerate the breakdown of toxic chemicals, they recommend using solar reflectors and parking in the shade, when possible; ventilating your car by opening the doors & windows before entering will also help. The best tip, though, is to just spend less time in your car, walking, biking, scooting or otherwise getting where you need to go without sitting down in a toxic off-gas incubator first.