Migraine : New Car Smell Chemicals and Headaches, Eye Irritation

Mitchell Hecht, Medical Columnist

Question: While I love the "new car scent" of my new SUV, I can't help but think that it's not good for me to breathe in those chemical fumes. How dangerous is it?

Answer: The new car smell that many of us love is nothing but glue and plastic fumes given off from a freshly manufactured car. Despite the alluring scent, chemical fumes like those aren't healthy to breathe in.

A 2001 Australian study found the following chemicals released from a new car's interior: benzene, cyclohexanone, and styrene. They reported anecdotal complaints of headache, disorientation, and eye irritation in new cars.

A Japanese study found that the volatile organic chemicals in a new minivan were over 35 times the health limit the day after its delivery. They had fallen under the limit in four months but increased again in the hot summer months, taking three years to permanently remain below the limit set by the Japanese health ministry.

Many of the volatile compounds released are considered carcinogens, but short-term exposure to new car fumes isn't believed to increase your risk of cancer. High levels of new car fumes rapidly dissipate within a few months. Leaving your car windows partly open and using the cooling/heating system to bring in fresh air will help dissipate the fumes more quickly.

There are no EPA regulations of new car fumes since they dissipate within a few months. Believe it or not, the standard measure for car manufacturers is to keep the fumes to a level that prevents repeated fogging of the window interiors.

Mitchell Hecht specializes in internal medicine. Send questions to him at: "Ask Dr. H," Box 767787, Atlanta, Ga. 30076. Due to the large volume of mail received, personal replies are not possible.

(c)2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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