Do you feel like your commute is killing you? It’s not just the side effects of sedentary life or the mental fatigue of slipping through traffic. A new study published in Environment International found that California commuters are likely to inhale alarmingly high amounts of chemicals that can increase the risk of cancer and birth defects. And here’s the kicker: it’s not from air pollution or exhaust fumes.
The researchers gave 90 study participants silicone bracelets that they could wear for five days. The molecular structure of silicone is ideal for trapping airborne pollutants. The aim was to test people’s exposure to chemicals that are typically found in vehicle interiors. The participants’ commute times ranged from 15 minutes to over two hours.
Ultimately, the researchers found benzene and formaldehyde in unsustainably high amounts in the vehicle interior. Benzene is used in the manufacture of synthetic fibers in automobiles, while formaldehyde is a binder in plastics. Both chemicals are carcinogenic (known to cause cancer), and benzene carries additional risks for reproductive and developmental toxicity.
“These chemicals are very volatile and easily migrate from plastics and textiles into the air you breathe,” explains study co-author David Volz, UCR professor of environmental toxicology.
A concern of the study was that participants with the longest commute had the greatest chemical exposure.
“Of course, there are a number of exposures depending on how long you sit in the car and how much of the compounds your car is emitting,” says Aalekhya Reddam, lead study author.
For Volz, the results of the study were not to be expected – but extremely alarming.
“I was rather skeptical because I didn’t think that we would achieve any significant concentration in this short period of time, let alone an association with commuting time. We both did, which was really surprising. “
What can be done to address the problem, Reddam suggests, is that commuters dilute the concentration of chemicals in the air by opening windows, while automakers must find alternatives to dangerous chemicals, according to Volz.
In the long run, Volz said, the study raises more questions about the effects of air pollutants and a more dangerous form of car disease.
“If we got this relationship in five days, what does that mean for chronic, long-term exposure for people who commute most of the weeks of the year for decades, year in year out?”
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