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New research finds flame retardants in vehicle interiors are carcinogens

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Americans are breathing in carcinogenic chemicals found in vehicle interior materials, according to a new study published by the American Chemical Society.

The chemicals are flame retardants required under federal law by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) since the 1970s, according to the research paper.

The researchers — from Duke University, Green Science Policy Institute, and the University of Toronto — say the only way for vehicle passengers to avoid the chemicals is by opening a window. Otherwise, regulation reforms are needed, according to the study.

There is a lack of understanding of which flame retardants are being used, sources in the vehicle, and implications for human exposure, according to the study.

The findings are from a study conducted on 101 passenger vehicles 2015 model year or newer. All of the study participants hung a silicone passive sampler on their rearview mirror for a week. Fifty-one of the participants collected a foam sample from one of their vehicle seats.

“Organophosphate ester [OPEs] flame retardants were detected in the cabin air of all 101 vehicles tested, indicating a route for human exposure to chemicals of concern from passenger vehicles,” the paper states. “Concentrations were correlated with the temperature of the surrounding environment. Seat foam is a source of these compounds to the cabin air.”

Flame retardant concentrations were two to five times higher in the summer, according to the research.

“…the use of nonrestricted [flame retardents] FRs is still the most affordable way to comply with flammability standards,” the paper states. “OPEs in particular have become increasingly popular and are commonly used in polyurethane foam, home furnishings, building materials, textiles, electronics, and vehicles.

Studies have now shown that exposure to certain OPEs is associated with altered birth outcomes, reproductive harm, and carcinogenicity. A well-known OPE, tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TDCIPP), has been associated with negative health effects, including decreased fertility, altered thyroid hormone function, and cancer leading to its addition to the California EPA Prop 65 list in 2011.”

Proposition 65 requires warnings be provided by businesses to Californians about significant exposures to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.

Despite exposure evidence, the researchers state that passenger vehicles are an understudied source even though 91% of Americans commute to work in a personal vehicle spending, on average, 55 minutes of their day in a vehicle. The study discovered that TDCIPP is found at higher concentrations in vehicle dust compared to other indoor microenvironments, such as bedrooms and offices.

Most of the vehicles studied also contained tris(1-chloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TCIPP) and tris (2-chloroethyl) phosphate (TCEP). The U.S. National Toxicology Program is investigating TCIPP as a potential carcinogen.

California is investigating TDCIPP and TCEP as potential carcinogens under Proposition 65.

Patrick Morrison, International Association of Fire Fighters  told The Hill flame retardants do little to prevent fires. Instead, they make them “smokier and more toxic,” he said.

“Firefighters are concerned that flame retardants contribute to their very high cancer rates,” Morrison said.

Researchers found that flame retardant levels weren’t significantly different based on vehicle make, model, year, or country of manufacture. manufacture. However, TCIPP and TNBP concentrations were significantly lower — six times lower and three times lower, respectively — in vehicles with all-electric engines compared to internal combustion engine vehicles, according to the study findings.

TCIPP concentrations also differed between electric and hybrid vehicles. During the winter and summer, respectively, TCIPP concentrations were eight and 14 times lower in EVs than in hybrids, according to the findings.


Featured image: OksanaRadchenko/iStock

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