It is a general notion to think that you are exposed to higher levels of air pollution if you cycle or walk than when you’re sitting inside a car. Well, you’re mistaken. Read along to uncover the lesser-known truth about the pollution inside your car.
So, what’s inside your car?
Apart from the visible interiors in your car, there are some unwelcomed invisible guests that cause a lot more harm to you than you can imagine. Let’s break them down for you!
Particulate Matter (PM): PM from the outside air gets trapped and ultimately settles in your car. A lot of these PMs are carcinogenic.
Effects: Cardiovascular diseases and mortality risks among old people.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): The high interior temperature accelerates the release of VOCs used in interior cleaning as well the paint used for the car. VOCs found in cars like Benzene and 1,3-butadiene are known carcinogens.
Effects: Increase in the risk of lung cancer, heart diseases, sleep disorders, blood disorders, etc.
Oizom FactFile #1: Acceptable exposure level for benzene is set at zero by the World Health Organization. And as per a study by Harvard students, car drivers on an average inhale two and a half times more benzene inside their cars than what a cyclist inhales in the open.
Black Carbon & Carbon Monoxide: Carbon pollutants emanated from the exhaust fumes find their way into the passenger seats.
Effects: Nausea, dizziness, headache, fatigue and asthma trigger.
Oizom FactFile #2: Research conducted by The International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA) found that the concentration of Carbon Monoxide may be 10 times higher than that found on the roadside at many places.
Nitrogen Oxides: Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) are produced during the combustion process and get trapped inside the car through the valve & fuel stems.
Effects: Cold, influenza, respiratory diseases, asthma and irritation of lungs & throat.
Oizom FactFile #3: The average NOx exposure of a person inside a car was 370 parts per billion (ppb) as compared to 130 ppb for a person bicycling on a city street, as per a research by Harvard students.
Ozone: Ozone in the stratosphere protects the Earth as we know. However, ground level ozone is extremely harmful and even destructive for us. Cars do not directly emit ozone. Rather, it is a byproduct of the reaction of VOCs & NOx in your car with the sunlight.
Effects: Choking, coughing, damage to lung tissues, nasal irritation and respiratory infections.
Airborne bromine, chlorine, lead and other heavy metals: The worst part is that the chemicals emanating from the dashboard, seats, armrest, steering wheel, etc. mix with the airborne pollutants within your car to form a deadly broth of toxins for the people inside the car. Also since these chemicals are not regulated, there is little that you know of the dangers looming around you while you sit comfortably inside your car.
Effects: Genotoxicity (damage to the DNA), respiratory effects, skin diseases, etc.
Steps you can take:
1. Before buying a car, check the website healthystuff.org. This is a free information site maintained by the Ecology Center, which provides ratings to cars on their capacity to keep the air clean. The Ecology Center has been prompting car makers from around the world to get rid of extensive Bromine-based Flame Retardants (BFRs) and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) that are used in the interiors of the cars. The good news is there are some cars that have got entirely rid of these two pollution-inducing materials.
2. Open the car windows for a few minutes prior to driving, especially when the car is parked in sun for a long time.
3. Use fans & automated air conditioning systems.
4. Roll up your windows when in traffic so that the exhaust gases from the car in front do not enter & settle in your car as pollutants.
5. Roll down your windows when on a highway so that the fresh air comes in and so that the particulates that entered in your car in the city streets do not settle down.
6. Park your car in shade whenever possible.
7. Use interior sun reflectors to keep the inside temperature down.
8. Walk or bike for short distance affairs.
9. Use public transport whenever you can. Studies report lesser exposure to toxic pollutants in buses than in cars.
10. Keep your vehicles clean and properly maintained. Dusty interiors and faulty engine can expose you and people around you to more toxic chemicals.
Last but not the least
We at Oizom, as a clean-tech firm carry out our own researches about air quality at various places, the data for which could be found on our website and blogs. However, we are not only limited to informing people about our research. Our aim is to engage people and empower them with a tool that they can use to monitor the air quality and subsequently contribute to a purer air by monitoring & changing habits and reaching out to people by sharing experiences & experiments about the same.
It would be a good start to click here and download our app that measures the air quality.
Switch on the app next time you’re inside your car and compare the data from inside with the outside. Try out the suggestions we recommended above and then share your insights here. This would complete the feedback loop and you will also help collect strong evidence on how we can improve people’s health and the air quality of your city.