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Can Your Car Flame Retardant Lead to Cancer?

In a recent study published, researchers have uncovered a concerning reality: individuals may be inhaling cancer-causing chemicals while inside their vehicles.

Sarbani Bhattacharjee
Can Your Car Flame Retardant Lead to Cancer? (This image has been created with MidJourney)
Can Your Car Flame Retardant Lead to Cancer? (This image has been created with MidJourney)

As per a study published in the Environmental Science and Technology Journal, the cabin air of approximately one hundred electric, gas, and hybrid cars spanning model years between 2015 and 2022, have flame-retardant chemicals. These chemicals impose a hazardous threat to the human body and may even cause cancer.

The research highlighted that an overwhelming 99 percent of the sampled cars contained flame retardants, notably TCIPP, suspected to harbor potential carcinogens.

These flame retardants, currently under scrutiny by the US National Toxicology Program, pose a significant public health risk. Flame retardants, known for their endocrine-disrupting properties, can interfere with the hormone system and potentially lead to various health complications, including breast cancer. Among the flame retardants detected, TDCIPP and TCEP were also identified, both considered carcinogenic. 

What essentially increases the magnitude of this issue is the seasonal variation in toxic flame-retardant levels, with the highest concentrations observed during the summer months. As temperatures rise, the release of chemicals from car materials intensifies, amplifying the risk of exposure for occupants. It is believed that car manufacturers incorporate these flame-retardant chemicals into seat foam, making car drivers particularly vulnerable to inhaling these harmful fumes.

The repercussions of inhaling flame retardants are grave, encompassing a spectrum of health effects. Medical experts have cautioned against the inhalation of these chemicals, citing potential risks such as endocrine and thyroid disruption, immunotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, cancer, and adverse effects on fetal and child development, as well as neurobehavioral function.

Dr. Deepti Malik, Senior Consultant at Jaypee Hospital in Noida, emphasizes the detrimental impact of prolonged exposure to car fumes on health, particularly among children. She warns that prolonged exposure may result in serious outcomes, with the lungs and heart being the primary organs affected, and in severe cases, the potential for cancer development.

Acknowledging the gravity of the situation, several car manufacturers have advocated for the reduction of flame retardants within vehicles, asserting that these toxic substances offer minimal benefit. While temporary solutions such as opening windows or parking in shaded areas may mitigate exposure, the goal is to eliminate or substitute toxic flame retardants with greener alternatives.

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