Many car buyers love that “new car smell” that comes with their brand new rides, but the chemicals that give off that “pleasant” scent are actually quite toxic. According to a new study by the Ecology Center, many of the chemicals that are used for parts of a car’s interior can cause health problems like allergies, birth defects and cancer. The Ecology Center tested over 200 of the most popular 2011- and 2012-model vehicles for chemicals that off-gas from parts such as the steering wheel, dashboard, armrests and seats and in its fourth consumer guide to toxic chemicals in cars at they found that the 2012 Honda Civic was the least toxic car on their list and the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport was the most toxic.

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“Research shows that vehicle interiors contain a unique cocktail of hundreds of toxic chemicals that off-gas in small, confined spaces,” said Jeff Gearhart, Research Director at the Ecology Center. “Since these chemicals are not regulated, consumers have no way of knowing the dangers they face. Our testing is intended to expose these dangers and encourage manufacturers to use safer alternatives.”

The top ranking cars in this year’s release are: 1) Honda Civic 2) Toyota Prius and 3) Honda CR-Z. Worst ranking: 1) Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2) Chrysler 200 SC and 3) Kia Soul. The Civic achieved its ranking by being free of bromine-based flame retardants in all interior components, utilizing PVC-free interior fabrics and interior trim and having low levels of heavy metals and other metal allergens. The Mitsubishi Outlander contained bromine and antimony-based flame retardants in the seating and center console; chromium treated leather on several components; and over 400 ppm lead in seating materials.

Marcos Frommer, Manager of Corporate Affairs & Communications at American Honda, stated, “We’re pleased to be recognized by for our efforts. Over the past decade, Honda has taken a number of steps to reduce or remove chemicals of concern from our vehicles. We voluntarily report these efforts in our annual North American Environmental Report.”

Although many vehicles contain hazardous chemicals, the Ecology Center syas that the overall vehicle ratings are improving. The best vehicles today have eliminated hazardous flame retardants and PVC. Today, 17% of new vehicles have PVC-free interiors and 60% are produced without Brominated Flame Retardants.

+ Ecology Center