Although owning a car is practically a necessity for work and a social life in today’s world, cars can emit and contain toxic substances harmful to human health and the environment. One of the most well-known substances emitted from an automobile is carbon monoxide, which can cause illness or even death to persons who are sitting in a running vehicle in a confined area, such as a garage. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache and confusion, and any person suffering from these symptoms should exit the area and seek medical attention immediately. Carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide can also be harmful or even deadly in a confined area because they limit the oxygen in the area available for a person to breathe. A car should never be run inside a confined area like a garage, even if a person is not inside the vehicle while it is running, because the emissions will pollute the air inside the confined area, making it unsafe until the area is ventilated. Vehicles can also emit carcinogens in their exhaust, such as benzene, which is linked to leukemia. Benzene smells like heated plastic and can enter the car through the vehicle’s air conditioning. Newer vehicles carry less risk for toxic exposure to harmful substances, because the risk of carcinogens and other toxins are more well-known, and newer cars must past stricter emissions requirements. Vehicles can be computer-tested by mechanics to see how well they comply with these standards, and new equipment can help adjust the emissions to safer levels.
Exhaust emissions are not the only area of a car that might cause exposure toxins. The interior of a car, such as the upholstery and paint can contain toxic substances as well, such as lead. Lead can rub off on a person’s hands or be breathed in when it is rubbed off and enters the air inside a car. Lead poisoning can change a person’s brain chemistry and lead to confusion and learning disabilities. Older vehicles and even old car parts such as brake pads, hood linings, clutch plates, etc. may contain asbestos, which is linked to mesothelioma. Inside a car, exposure to these toxins increases because the substances are concentrated. Limiting driving time and keeping windows open can help decrease the concentration of harmful substances and therefore decreases the chances that harmful conditions such as cancer might develop. Children are especially vulnerable to conditions caused by these toxins, so it is especially important to make sure that a vehicle complies with modern safety standards if a child is a frequent passenger in the vehicle. Older vehicles should also be tested for compliance with emissions standards, and old upholstery should be replaced if it is found to contain harmful substances.
Written by Brian Turner