Home > Cancer > Everyone loves the new car smell, but what’s in it? Environmental Toxins

Everyone loves the new car smell, but what’s in it? Environmental Toxins

The 6th health pillar of the Lifestyle Therapies 7 Pillars to a Healthy Productive Life is Reduced Exposure to Toxins.


This is not a new report, but one that is new to me. When most of us think about exposure to toxins we immediately think of outside contaminants, but as this study shows, most of our exposure is inside, that is in the home, office and car. The most important thing here is ventilation…


New car headaches may involve more than minor warranty problems.


Research by CSIRO has found high levels of air toxic emissions in new motor vehicles for up to six months and longer after they leave the showroom.


Dr Steve Brown, head of CSIRO’s Air Quality Control research says, “Just as air inside our homes and workplaces is often much more polluted than the air outside, so sitting in a new car can expose you to levels of toxic emissions many times beyond goals established by Australia’s National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC)”.

During its two-year study using three new motor vehicles from three weeks of their delivery to purchasers, CSIRO became aware of anecdotal reports, such as:

  • A solicitor who was ill for several days (headache, lung irritation, swelling) after collecting a new locally built car and driving it for only 10 minutes (the solicitor eventually swapped it for an 18-month-old car, which did not have any effect on her health)
  • A government worker who felt ill when driving new government cars during the first 6 months after their delivery
  • A chemically sensitised person who felt “spaced out’ when in any new car
  • A salesman who regularly updated his locally built car and found he became lethargic on long trips (e.g. from Melbourne to Geelong) when the car was new

Dr Brown says, “Measurements made during the CSIRO study found total volatile organic compound (TVOC) concentrations were initially very high (up to 64,000 micrograms per cubic metre) in two Australian-made cars which reached the market 3-10 weeks after manufacture”.

Brown says, “These levels decreased by approximately 60% in the first month, but still much exceeded the NHMRC indoor air goal of 500 micrograms per cubic metre”.

Air toxics being emitted inside new cars during the CSIRO study and the effects they may cause include:


Benzene – a known human carcinogen for which an annual exposure goal of 16 micrograms per cubic metre has been recommended in the UK.


  • Acetone – a mucosal irritant
  • Cyclohexanone – a possible human carcinogen
  • Ethylbenzene – a systemic toxic agent
  • MIBK – a systemic toxic agent
  • n-Hexane – a neurotoxic agent
  • Styrene – a probable human carcinogen
  • Toluene – a central nervous system dysfunction agent
  • Xylene isomers – a foetal development toxic agent


Dr Brown says, “To avoid some exposure to this toxic cocktail, people who buy new cars should make sure there is plenty of outside air entering the vehicle while they drive, for at least six months after the vehicle has been purchased, although this may not be possible in heavy traffic due to air toxics from car exhausts. Ultimately, what we need are cars with interior materials that produce low emissions”.

CSIRO estimates that indoor air pollution costs the Australian community in excess of $10 billion a year in illness and lost productivity.

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