How a car safety feature increases your exposure to carcinogens

When most of us think of the dangers we may face when driving, the possibility of having a wreck is probably at the top of our minds.

Yet, according to researchers at Duke University, there is something even more worrisome and just as dangerous that doesn’t just have a possibility of happening but is a certainty every time we get behind the wheel.

That’s because thanks to outdated federal standards, every single moment we spend in our vehicle means breathing in known carcinogens…

Seats fill the air with cancer-causing flame retardants

Back in the 1970s, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 302 mandated that flame retardants be added to the seat foam used in cars.

This requirement remains unchanged to this day, even though it has shown no proven fire-safety benefit. You might be surprised to learn the same was found about the use of flame retardants in homes and clothing.

Instead, they pose a very frightening risk: flame retardants are classified as both potential and known carcinogens.

“Firefighters are concerned that flame retardants contribute to their very high cancer rates,” said Patrick Morrison, who oversees Health and Safety for 350,000 U.S. and Canadian firefighters at the International Association of Fire Fighters. “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.

And it doesn’t take a fire to bring those carcinogens out of the seats and into the air your breather inside your car…

No car is “safe”

You might think is more of a problem in junkers, but Duke researchers were able to detect flame retardants inside the cabins of cars made in 2015 and newer.

In fact, the team found that 99 percent of the 101 cars they tested across the county contained tris (1-chloro-isopropyl) phosphate (TCIPP). TCIPP is a flame retardant that is currently under investigation by the U.S. National Toxicology Program as a potential carcinogen.

If that weren’t bad enough, their study showed that the air in most cars also had additional flame retardants present, including tris (1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TDCIPP) and tris (2-chloroethyl) phosphate (TCEP).

These organophosphate esters are on the list of California Proposition 65 carcinogens, which are known to cause cancer or birth defects and other reproductive harm. They’ve also been linked to neurological damage.

It’s no wonder then that research has discovered that the average U.S. child has lost three to five IQ points from exposure to a single flame retardant used in cars and furniture. It’s been shown that people with the highest levels of these flame retardants in their blood experience a four times greater risk of dying from cancer compared with people with the lowest levels.

“Our research found that interior materials release harmful chemicals into the cabin air of our cars,” said lead author Rebecca Hoehn. “Considering the average driver spends about an hour in the car every day, this is a significant public health issue. It’s particularly concerning for drivers with longer commutes as well as child passengers, who breathe more air pound for pound than adults.”

Reducing the flame retardants in the air you breathe

Sadly, until federal standards are changed, there’s not much you can do to keep these flame retardants out of your car.

However, there are small steps you can take to reduce the amount of these cancer-causing chemicals filling your cabin air…

First, knowing that your exposure can worsen with the changing seasons is important. Summer weather was linked to TCIPP air concentrations at levels 9 times higher. That’s because off-gassing from interior components, like seat foam, is increased by warm temperatures.

Take these steps to lessen your exposure:

  • Open your windows – Allowing fresh air in to sweep away toxins whenever possible is vital to making your car a safer space.
  • Minimize the use of recirculated air mode.
  • Wash hands after being in car, especially before eating.
  • Park in the shade – This is especially important in warmer months when the inside of your car can reach up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, making the off-gassing of flame retardants even more likely.
  • Put up a sunshade – Reflective sunshades can reduce the heat level in your car and therefore the off-gassing of carcinogens.
  • Put a portable filter to work – Portable HEPA filters are available for vehicular use. If possible, place on in both the front and back of your car.

Additionally, consider adding a B-vitamin to your daily supplement regimen, since these vitamin powerhouses have been found to fight the DNA damage caused by air pollution, such as the toxic air in your car.

Antioxidants can also be valuable tools against pollutants that harm the body by increasing free radicals.

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Study: You’re breathing potential carcinogens inside your car — EurekAlert!

Flame retardants in vehicles — Green Science Policy Institute

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

By Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, with more than 20 years of experience. She has dedicated herself to helping others enjoy life at every age through the use of alternative medicine and natural wellness options. Dr. Schmedthorst enjoys sharing her knowledge with the alternative healthcare community, providing solutions for men and women who are ready to take control of their health the natural way.