It's a topic that doesn't get much play when discussing the particulars of a new car purchase, but it's one that is arguably as important as fuel mileage or horsepower: just how safe the interior of a vehicle is in terms of the chemicals that it lurk within its plastic confines. The Ecology Center, a nonprofit group based in Michigan has just released its list of the most and least safe automobiles based on the presence of toxic materials in their interiors.
The Ecology Center employed 200 researchers who tested for something called 'off-gassing,' which is the emission of chemicals by artificial materials. Sometimes these invisible gases can have a significant impact on the health of the individuals that are exposed to them, with the Center listing chlorine, lead, toluene, benzene, and bromine as some of the main offenders when it comes to vehicle interiors. Each of these chemicals can create health problems ranging from allergic reactions to cancer or even birth defects amongst pregnant women. In fact, the 'new car smell' that is prominent in freshly manufactured automobiles is actually the by-product of the roughly 250 lbs of off-gassing plastic present in the average vehicle.
What makes the interior of an automobile such a potentially noxious environment for drivers and passengers? The Ecology Center claims that since the typical American commuter spends 1.5 hours per day inside the enclosed confines of a vehicle, the amount of potential off-gassing that they are exposed to is significant. Cars and trucks which are left out in the hot summer sun are also subject to a greenhouse effect that can see internal temperatures rise to just under 250 degrees Fahrenheit - enough heat to transform already hazardous compounds into even more dangerous chemical gases.
Working together with HealthyStuff.org, The Ecology Center has published a list of the 10 best and 10 worst vehicles judged by the toxicity of their passenger compartments. Honda takes two of the top three 'best' positions, with the 2012 Honda Civic placing first and the 2011 Honda CR-Z occupying the third spot. The 2011 Toyota Prius finished second overall. The Center lauded the Civic's elimination of bromine as a fire-prevention additive, as well as avoiding PVC and heavy metals when putting together the vehicle's upholstery and trim. PVC is considered the 'most toxic' plastic by The Ecology Center, but the report indicates progress being made as 17 percent of automobiles manufactured in 2011 and 2012 boasted PVC-free passenger compartments.
On the other end of the spectrum, the report pointed a finger at the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, the 2011 Chrysler 200 and the 2011 Kia Soul as the worst offenders from an occupant safety perspective. The Mitsubishi SUV was found to contain alarming concentrations of lead and bromine in its seats and other trim.
A vehicle's 'green' quotient has become an increasingly important aspect of the shopping experience for drivers who are concerned about the impact of their purchase decisions on the environment around them. The Ecology Center report reveals that not all aspects of an automobile's environmental footprint can be measured at the tail pipe - especially as it relates to the effect that a car or truck can have on the health of those riding inside.