Chemicals in car interiors may cause cancer — and they’re required by US law: Study

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A recent study has revealed that tens of millions of Americans are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals present in the interiors of their cars on a daily basis.

While airing out the vehicle by opening a window can help decrease the risk, researchers emphasized that only policy changes can truly ensure people’s safety, as outlined in a study published in Environmental Science and Technology.

Every day, around 124 million Americans commute, spending an average of an hour in their cars.

Federal regulations mandate the inclusion of flame retardants or chemicals in car interiors to reduce flammability during a crash.

These flame retardants have been obligatory in modern vehicles since the 1970s, enforced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

However, the effectiveness of these chemicals in preventing fires is a subject of debate. 

Patrick Morrison from the International Association of Firefighters mentioned in a statement accompanying the study that these chemicals do not effectively prevent fires but make them “smokier and more toxic.”

Duke University researchers discovered that virtually all cars they examined contained a chemical called tris (1-chloro-isopropyl) phosphate, or TCIPP, which the U.S. National Toxicology Program is currently looking into as a possible carcinogen.

Additionally, most cars also had two other phosphate-based flame retardants that the state of California is investigating for potential carcinogenic properties: tris (1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TDCIPP) and tris (2-chloroethyl) phosphate (TCEP).

These three chemicals are associated with reproductive and neurological issues, mainly because they do not remain confined to the fabrics they are embedded in.

The flame retardant chemicals can escape or seep out from the seat and interior materials into the air, particularly in hot conditions where car interiors can reach temperatures of 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

Advocates argue that the dangers posed by these chemicals outweigh any benefits they provide. 

Health researchers have observed that the average U.S. child has potentially lost up to 5 IQ points due to exposure to flame retardants in cars and furniture. Furthermore, adults with higher levels of flame retardants in their blood face a cancer mortality risk that is four times greater than those with lower levels, as indicated by a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Morrison from the firefighters advocacy group expressed concerns that “firefighters are worried that flame retardants contribute to their elevated cancer rates.”

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