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Interiors of Nissan Versa, Chevy Aveo rated most toxic -- report
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Russell J. Dinnage, Greenwire reporter
The Nissan Versa and the Chevy Aveo contain more toxic chemicals in their interior parts than other cars in the U.S. market, according to a report released yesterday by an advocacy group.
The Ecology Center report says chemicals used in the manufacturing or treatment of auto parts -- such as bromine, chlorine and phthalates -- can release gases in extreme heat or collect in dust particles and contaminate the air inside of cars, leading to dangerous levels of human exposure.
In addition to the Versa and the Aveo, the Scion xB 5dr, Kia Rio and Spectra, Suzuki Forenza, Subaru Forester, Chevy Express and Silverado and the Hyundai Accent all received "high concern" rankings.
The Chevy Cobalt, the Chrysler PT Cruiser and the Honda Odyssey topped the list of 10 cars that received the best possible rating from the Ann Arbor, Mich., group. All 10 had the minimum amount of toxins in their interior parts, and some manufacturers such as Volvo subscribe to the Oko-Tex Standard 100, which requires automakers to limit the amount of toxins in interior fabrics.
Bromine, a known endocrine disruptor, is added to plastics used in the interiors of cars as a fire retardant, but it can be broken down and released into the air when exposed to UV-rays, the report says.
Also, chlorine is an element in PVC compounds that is used in the dashboards of cars. PVC compounds contain plasticizers called phthalates, which are also known endocrine disruptors. If exposed to extreme heat or sunlight, they can leach into dust particles and then be inhaled by drivers.
The report adds that various toxic metals such as lead, arsenic and mercury are also used in auto parts and can be taken in by drivers and passengers.
Ecology Center's clean car campaign director Jeff Gearhart said that, even if a car is kept out of extreme heat throughout the course of its life, the chemicals in its interior parts will naturally "volatilize" -- just at a slower rate than if they were exposed to extreme heat or sunlight.
Gearhart also explained that, because U.S. EPA does not regulate toxins in auto parts or maintain standards for the air quality of car interiors, there was no baseline for the center to measure against while conducting its testing.
"We had to take samples from car parts and then measure their toxin levels against similar consumer products such as computers or chairs," he said.
Last year, the center released a report card for automakers that have replaced plastics in their car interiors with safer alternatives. Ford, Toyota and Honda received the best marks (Greenwire, Nov. 15, 2006).