Awful Substances in Automobiles [INFOGRAPHICS].

Guest post by Brian Turner.

Mechanics and car enthusiasts may not be aware of the toxic substances that are routinely found in automobiles. Many are familiar with carbon monoxide and its potential dangers; with this knowledge, steps can be taken to minimize or eliminate exposure to it. However, there are other substances that most people are not aware of, and regular exposure could lead to serious health problems.

VOCs or volatile organic compounds are chemical gases that are often present in the environment of car interiors, especially when the car is new. These compounds are often inhaled when heat or confinement concentrates them. At high levels, they can potentially cause a variety of symptoms. VOCs may emanate from a variety of plastics, paints, glues and even fabrics.

Benzene is a notable VOC frequently found in car interiors. It is a sweet-smelling solvent that is commonly used in the production of plastics. Exposure to this chemical can cause breathing difficulties, abnormal heartbeat, nausea, dizziness and headaches. Very high levels can be fatal. Long-term benzene exposure is associated with certain forms of leukemia.

While there is some controversy about its dangers, the World Health Organization has taken the position that there are no safe levels of exposure to benzene. Plastics used in car manufacturing often contain benzene, and since cars are parked in the sun regularly, these materials often become overheated which can increase off gassing. When a plastic smell is detected inside a car, windows should be opened to provide ventilation. This will lessen exposure to chemical gases.

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was more widely used in building construction and the manufacture of commercial products before the 1980s. When the health dangers of asbestos were discovered, it was largely abandoned in construction use, but bans of the product were inadequate. Although it is highly regulated, asbestos is still used in some industrial materials including automotive parts. Both older and current car models may have parts that contain asbestos. These include brake pads and linings, gaskets, clutch facings, and hood linings. When asbestos-containing material is disturbed, the fibers become airborne and can then be easily inhaled. This presents a serious health hazard to mechanics and hobbyists.

Asbestos exposure has been identified as the predominant cause of malignant mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that involves the lining of the lungs, abdomen and chest. It can also cause a non-cancerous condition called asbestosis. This results from a build-up of scar tissue in the lungs and may lead to severe disability or even death. For detailed safety standards and precautions concerning occupational exposure to asbestos, consult the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. While automobile-related toxins cannot be completely avoided, limiting exposure to them can help to preserve health.

The above guest article is written by Brian Turner.

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