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Threatening toxins in Automobiles

Brian Turner looks into the issues with toxins in cars...

People depend on automobiles to get them everywhere. But little do they know there could be harmful toxins and materials inside them. Long-term exposure could result in serious health problems; automobile owners need to be made aware of the risks.

Toxins frequently found in automobiles

Nothing is more “intoxicating” to the owner of a new automobile than the “new car” smell. Yet that very smell can hold hazardous toxins, which are released during manufacturing into the automobile’s environment.

Bromine is a chemical found in the dyes, flame proofing agents, and fumigants used in all vehicles and child car seats. While it increases fire resistance, it can be absorbed through the skin and/or inhaled when released.

PBDEs are chemicals that are frequently used in cars and planes as a flame or fire retardant. They can be digested or inhaled when released.

Phthalates are found in the plastics of an automobile such as the dashboard and arm panels. These chemicals are released when hot or heated, forming a film on the windshield as they are released. They can be absorbed orally and through the skin and lungs. 

Polyvinyl chloride is a chemical primarily found in or on automobile seats and mats. It releases as a harmful gas that can be absorbed orally or inhaled.

These chemicals can also be used in the leathers and fabrics of automobiles. Exposure can lead to birth defects, premature births, learning impairment, respiratory disease, organ dysfunction, and chronic headaches.

A toxin commonly found in paint is lead. It is swallowed or inhaled when its particles are released. Goggles and gloves are recommended for protection against exposure. Symptoms include dizziness, headaches, and learning impairment.


Asbestos is a hazardous toxin commonly found in older automobiles. It can be found on brakes, brake liners, pads, and drums, clutches, valve gaskets, paint, and transmission boxes. Asbestos can flake apart and release harmful fibers that can be inhaled. It can also be absorbed in the automobile interior over time. 


Asbestos exposure often causes a rare and deadly cancer called mesothelioma. Mesothelioma impairs lung functioning. Autoworkers and mechanics at the most risk. Extra precautions should be taken when handling auto parts and materials to decrease their chances of being exposed.


Imports may contain harmful toxins. Foreign automobiles are typically built to less restrictive standards than the U.S.; materials containing asbestos could be used, increasing the chances of exposure.

Be informed

Use the Internet to check and research consumer reports on automobiles before purchasing. There is plenty of information available, including the interior and exterior of an automobile. Know the risks and benefits. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to something this important.

Many thanks to Brian Turner for this informative article

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About Tim Oldland

Contributing Editor - Long time petrolhead, automotive design engineer and journalist. Also Social Media Manager for the ecurie25 Group - Tim has worked in the automotive sector for many years, but has been a fan of anything with 2 or 4... read more