Drivers Are Inhaling Cancer-Causing Chemicals in Their Cars, New Study Finds

Researchers found that 99% of cars contained a toxic flame retardant in the cabin air due to seat foam

Johner Images / Getty Images
Johner Images / Getty Images
  • Researchers found that 99% of cars contained a toxic flame retardant, called TCIPP, in the cabin air

  • The source of the flame retardant, which is under investigation as a potential carcinogen, is seat foam

  • People can reduce their exposure to the toxic chemicals by opening their car windows and parking in the shade

Drivers and passengers are breathing in potentially cancerous chemicals while in their cars, a new study finds.

The study — published May 7 in Environmental Science & Technology — analyzed the cabin air of 101 electric, gas and hybrid cars across 30 states with a model year between 2015 and 2022.

Researchers found that 99% of the cars contained a flame retardant called TCIPP, which is currently under investigation by the U.S. National Toxicology Program as a potential carcinogen. Additionally, most cars also had two more flame retardants considered carcinogenic: TDCIPP and TCEP.

“Considering the average driver spends about an hour in the car every day, this is a significant public health issue,” said Rebecca Hoehn, lead researcher and toxicology scientist at Duke University, said in a release. “It’s particularly concerning for drivers with longer commutes as well as child passengers, who breathe more air pound for pound than adults.”

According to the study, levels of the toxic flame retardants were also higher in the summer as heat increases the release of chemicals from the car materials.

The source of the cancer-causing compounds in the cabin air is seat foam, researchers said. Flame retardants have been added to seat foam to meet requirements set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 302, which were adopted in the 1970s and have not been updated.

Related: U.S. Breast Milk Contaminated by 25 Kinds of Flame Retardant Chemicals, Research Says

<p>John Lamb/Getty</p>

John Lamb/Getty

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"Firefighters are concerned that flame retardants contribute to their very high cancer rates. Filling products with these harmful chemicals does little to prevent fires for most uses and instead makes the blazes smokier and more toxic for victims, and especially for first responders,” Patrick Morrison, director of health, safety and medicine for the International Association of Fire Fighters, said in a news release. “I urge [the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] NHTSA to update their flammability standard to be met without flame retardant chemicals inside vehicles."

Researchers insist that these toxic flame retardants serve no real benefit inside vehicles.

Lydia Jahl, study author and senior scientist at the Green Science Policy Institute, said people may be able to reduce their exposure to the toxic flame retardants by opening their car windows and parking in the shade or in garages.

“But what’s really needed is reducing the amount of flame retardants being added to cars in the first place,” she said. “Commuting to work shouldn’t come with a cancer risk, and children shouldn’t breathe in chemicals that can harm their brains on their way to school.”

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