Viral message claims car interiors contain toxic levels of cancer-causing benzene emitted by dashboards, car seats, and air fresheners, and recommends opening windows to expel trapped benzene gas before turning on the car air conditioner.
True or false?
Here is the message:
Do not turn on A/C immediately as soon as you enter the car! Please open the windows after you enter your car and do not turn ON the air-conditioning immediately.
According to a research done, the car dashboard, sofa, air freshener emits Benzene, a Cancer causing toxin (carcinogen- take note of the heated plastic Smell in your car). In addition to causing cancer, it poisons your bones, causes anemia, and reduces white blood cells. Prolonged exposure will cause Leukemia, increasing the risk of cancer. May also cause miscarriage.
Acceptable Benzene level indoors is 50 mg per sq. ft.. A car parked indoors with the windows closed will contain 400-800 mg of Benzene. If parked outdoors under the sun at a temperature above 60 degrees F, the Benzene level goes up to 2000-4000 mg, 40 times the acceptable level … and the people inside the car will inevitably inhale an excess amount of the toxins.
It is recommended that you open the windows and door to give time for the interior to air out before you enter. Benzene is a toxin that affects your kidney and liver, and is very difficult for your body to expel this toxic stuff.
While it isn’t one hundred percent false, the above text is a font of misinformation. Don’t let it scare you.
Starting with the basics, it’s true that benzene is a toxic chemical known to produce a variety of ill health effects, including anemia and cancer (specifically leukemia) in humans.
Low levels of benzene are typically present in outdoor air due to automobile exhaust and industrial emissions.
Thanks to vapors emitted by household products such as glues, paints, and furniture wax, even higher levels of benzene can sometimes be found in indoor air, especially in new buildings.
What the scientists say
Benzene is known to cause cancer, based on evidence from studies in both people and laboratory animals. The link between benzene and cancer has largely focused on leukemia and other cancers of blood cells. Rates of leukemia, particularly acute myeloid leukemia (AML), have been found to be higher in studies of workers exposed to high levels of benzene, such as those in the chemical, shoemaking, and oil refining industries.
A German study published in 2007 specifically researching the air inside parked cars did not find a hazard to human health. Their analysis detected some cancer-causing chemicals and others that are considered probable or possible carcinogens, but these chemicals were present at levels similar to those found in the air of buildings. Some chemicals that are similar to benzene were found, but benzene was not reported in the results of this study.
Another blow against this claim comes from the German study previously mentioned. It measured the level of a whole group of chemicals in a new car and an older car “parked in sunshine.” Levels were higher in the new car than the old one, but still 1/10 of the level claimed in the message for benzene alone (and, benzene was not even among the more than 40 chemicals recognized in the study).
There are no published studies that confirm the claims of this e-mail. Benzene levels that exceed recommendations for chronic workplace exposure have been observed in some moving cars, but these levels seem unlikely in properly maintained cars.
When in doubt, ventilate
Despite this finding, some drivers may still be concerned about the presence of any benzene vapors inside their car, especially given the World Health Organization’s stated position that there is “no safe level of exposure” to the carcinogen.
They may also worry, per the email warning above, that turning on the vehicle’s air conditioner might exacerbate their exposure to trapped toxins by recirculating contaminated air. If that’s the case, there’s no harm done — and much peace of mind to be gained — by simply opening the windows and ventilating the car before turning it on.
- Stay away from cigarette smoke. If you are a smoker, try to quit. Cigarette smoke is a major source of benzene exposure.
- If you are exposed on the job, talk to your employer about process changes (such as replacing the benzene with another solvent or making sure the benzene source is properly enclosed) or by using personal protective equipment. If needed, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) can provide more information or make an inspection.
- Try to limit gasoline fumes by pumping gas carefully and choosing gas stations with vapor recovery systems that capture the fumes. Avoid skin contact with gasoline, which contains benzene.
- Finally, use common sense around any chemicals that might contain benzene, like solvents, paints, and art supplies. Minimize or avoid exposure to their fumes, especially in unventilated spaces.
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