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US Study Finds Potential Carcinogens in Cars

A new study published in Environmental Science and Technology has uncovered the presence of potentially harmful flame retardants in the air of all tested vehicles. This study highlights a significant public health concern, revealing that everyday car use may expose drivers and passengers to dangerous chemicals.


US Study Finds Potential Carcinogens in Cars p
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Researchers enlisted 101 US citizens, each owning a vehicle of model year 2015 or newer. Participants placed passive air samplers in their vehicles for seven days, and around half of them also provided a foam sample from their vehicle seats. The results were alarming: Organophosphate esters (OPEs), a group of chemicals commonly used as flame retardants and plasticizers, were detected in 100% of the vehicles tested.

Flame retardants are added to various products to delay ignition and slow the spread of fires, crucial for meeting flammability standards in vehicles. However, certain halogenated flame retardants are persistent, meaning they do not break down easily in the environment and can bioaccumulate in the bodies of wildlife and humans. OPEs have been linked to adverse impacts on the endocrine system, reproductive health, and brain development.

One particular OPE, TCIPP, which is suspected to be a carcinogen, was the most prevalent. Detected in 99% of the air samplers, TCIPP was also the primary flame retardant found in the vehicle seat foam. Notably, TCIPP is the most commonly detected OPE in UK cars, homes, and rivers. The study also found that the concentrations of flame retardants in the air samplers were 2-5 times higher in summer than in winter, indicating a seasonal variation in exposure risk.

The researchers assert that flame retardants used in car furnishings are a significant source of OPE exposure, with the risk exacerbated in warmer weather. Lydia Jahl, a senior scientist at the Green Science Policy Institute and co-author of the study, advocates for reducing the amount of flame retardants added to cars, stating, “Commuting to work shouldn’t come with a cancer risk.”

The issue of flame retardants is not confined to the US. The European biomonitoring project HBM4EU has found widespread exposure to harmful chemicals, including certain flame retardants, across the European population. CHEM Trust is calling for a comprehensive approach to regulate flame retardants of concern in the EU and UK. In April 2023, CHEM Trust responded to the European Chemical Agency’s consultation on its Regulatory Strategy for flame retardants, urging broad and swift action. Similarly, the organization responded to the UK consultation on fire safety of domestic upholstered furniture, emphasizing the health risks associated with flame retardant exposure and advocating for reduced reliance on these chemicals in furniture.

This study underscores the urgent need for regulatory action to address the health risks posed by flame retardants in vehicles. As the evidence mounts, it is clear that protecting public health requires a concerted effort to minimize exposure to these harmful chemicals.