The “new car smell” that everyone knows and loves might actually be a health risk.
A new study published in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science suggested that the scent could increase the risk of cancer.
Scientists at Harvard University and the Beijing Institute of Technology conducted their research in real-world settings and conditions rather than in a laboratory.
They looked at the air in new cars that were left parked outside for 12 days straight and used sensors to monitor 20 commonly produced chemicals.
Researchers discovered chemical levels that exceeded China’s national safety standard for air quality in cars.
Formaldehyde, a known cancer-causing compound, surpassed standards by 35%. Another dangerous carcinogen, acetaldehyde, was 61% higher than the standard.
A 2021 study showed that there could be a “potential risk” for people who spend significant amounts of time driving — but this new research suggests people can be at risk even if they don’t have a long commute.
Spending just 30 minutes daily in a car can expose a person to enough of these carcinogens to put them at risk of exceeding safety standards, the authors found. Warmer weather also increases the levels of chemicals.
While many studies typically focus on air temperature, this new research showed that the biggest effect came from the surface temperature of materials.
“These observations increase our understanding of in-cabin chemical transport and emission mechanisms,” the researchers wrote.