HealthThe toxic risk of flame retardants in your car

The toxic risk of flame retardants in your car

According to scientists, spending hours inside a car every day can already have a negative effect on health.
According to scientists, spending hours inside a car every day can already have a negative effect on health.
Images source: © Press materials | Chrysler
10:34 AM EDT, May 9, 2024

They are designed to keep us safe within the confines of our vehicles, yet they unwittingly pose significant harm to us every day. Scientists have found that substances used to decrease the flammability of interior materials in cars adversely affect our health.

The potential danger of car seats catching fire while driving is not hard to imagine. A simple cigarette butt or any object that can focus sunlight inside the car could trigger a fire. Because of this, it's understandable that manufacturers have long been incorporating substances into the cabin's finish that lower the materials' flammability, such as in the seats' foam. However, these substances are far from harmless.

An article in the "Environmental Science & Technology" journal summarized research on how these substances impact health during everyday car use. Duke University researchers investigating vehicles on the American market discovered that up to 99 percent of car cabins contained tris(1-chloroisopropyl) phosphate (TCIPP), a flame retardant suspected to be carcinogenic.

"Most cars also contained other flame retardants based on organophosphorus esters, including tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TDCIPP) and tris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate (TCEP), known in California to be carcinogens. These, alongside other flame retardants, are linked to damage to the neurological and reproductive systems," reports the Polish Press Agency.

Studies indicate that cars with seats made using TCIPP have higher levels of this substance in the cabin air. The issue worsens in summer, when strong sunlight causes the cabin, and consequently the upholstery, to heat up to temperatures as high as 149 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the American market, flame-retardant measures comply with regulations set by the NHTSA, the entity responsible for road safety, to ensure upholstery is resistant to open flames. Established in the 1970s, this regulation is now being questioned by some - including firefighters.

Patrick Morrison from the International Association of Fire Fighters says these additives minimally prevent fires. Still, they can lead to dangerous smoke accumulation in the cabin during emergencies, endangering both victims and rescuers.

A possible solution for the American market might be to reevaluate the regulations regarding the reduction of flammability in car interiors. Perhaps a reduced use of these substances could achieve sufficient flame resistance while also mitigating their adverse health impacts.

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