There's more to green vehicles than just fuel economy
HealthyStuff.org produces one-of-kind ratings for healthy interiors for new vehicles.
This is the only organization that routinely tests new vehicles for the health of their vehicle interiors and posts the data publicly for consumers.
While fuel economy is important, the public in increasingly concerned about chemical hazards in consumer products.
There is no mandatory testing or regulation of chemicals used inside vehicles. Thus, consumers face a lack of information while they are car shopping.
Long-term exposure even to small amounts of pollutants can adversely impact health. Children are at a greater risk for developing health problems because they breathe in more air with respect to their body size than adults and thus have greater exposure to interior vehicle pollutants.
Chemical Hazards in Vehicles
Exposure to many toxic chemicals is highest indoors: Average Americans spens up to 90% of their daily lives indoors. The EPA has estimated indoor air pollution levels can be two to five times higher than outdoor air pollution levels. EPA has ranked indoor air pollution one of the top five environmental risks to public health. Next to homes and offices, we spend the most time in automobiles: 1.5 hours per day on average.
The "New Car Smell" is toxic: The "new car smell" is actually the smell of toxic chemicals off-gassing from interior auto parts such as the seating, dashboards and vehicle trim. Since 1960 the quantity of plastics used in vehicles has grown ten-fold, rising from 22 pounds in 1960 to over 250 pounds today. Many synthetic materials and plastics are produced with chemical additives that are used to change the engineering performance of the plastics, thus these plastics may contain plasticizers, stabilizers, flame retardants, aintimicorbials and antioxidants. Due to these additives, many pollutants, including benzene, toluene and xylene, were found in levels exceeding indoor and outdoor air quality standards.
The concentrations of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in vehicles contribute nearly 30% to total daily exposure.
Auto interiors are chemical reactors: Immediately after delivery, new vehicles have been found to be universally contaminated with very high concentrations of a large number of chemicals that diffuse from interior vehicle materials. Over 275 different chemicals have been identified in vehicles interiors, including chemicals associate with birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity and cancer. Automobiles are unique and harsh environments for plastics. Air temperature extremes of 192 F (89 C) and dash temperatures up to 248 F (120 C) have been observed in vehicles. These extreme temperatures can increase the concentration of VOCs and high levels of sunlight producing breakdown products which can also be harmful to human health.
Some cars are better the others, healthier cars are possible: HealthyStuff.org has screened 900 vehicles since 2006. Our unique tests show a clear difference between the best vehicles and bets companies and others. The best vehicles today have eliminated important chemical hazards, including hazardous flame retardants and PVC. Today, 17% of new vehicles have PVC-free interiors and 60% are produced without BFRs in the interiors.
HealthyStuff.org is releasing one-of-kind test data on 204 new 2011-2012 model new vehicles. This data is part of a multi-year HealthyStuff.org vehicle database containing test results for 900 vehicles.
The overall best and worst vehicles are listed below. The 2012 Honda Civic (score 0.46) was the overall best-rated vehicle and 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (score 3.17) was the overall worst-rated vehicle this year.
The Civic achieved its ranking by being free of bromine-base flame retardants is all interior components, utilizing PVC-free interior fabrics and interior trim, and low levels of heavy metals and other metal allergens.
The Mitsubishi Outlander contained bromine and antimony-bases flame retardants in seating, the center console and seat base, chromium treated leather on several components and over 400 ppm lead in seating materials.
Overall Vehicle Ratings: Overall vehicle ratings continue to improve. These improvements are due to a significant reduction in the use of PVC and BFR by some automakers.
Top Ranked Manufacturer: The top-rated automaker for healthy interiors continues to be Honda. Honda has been HealthyStuff.org's top ranked automaker every year since 2007. Hyundai-Kia has been the lowest ranked manufacturer for the last two years.
Auto Manufacturer Trends
Most Improved Automakers: Most improved automakers in terms of the average ratings for their vehicles are VW (+42%), Mitsubishi (+38%) and Ford (+30%). These represent improvement in their average vehicle scores between the combined 2009-2010 models years to the combined 2011-2012 model years
Automakers With Declining Ratings: Two automakers had overall declining average scores between the combined 2009-2010 models years to the combined 2011-2012 model years. Daimler AG (-29%) and Volvo (-13%).
PVC in vehicles
PVC is the most toxic plastic: PVC, a widely used type of plastic in vehicles that is of concern to the environment and public health during all phases of its life cycle. During the production phase, workers at PVC facilities, as well as residents and wildlife in surrounding neighborhoods, may be exposed to the vinyl chloride monomer and/or dioxin, both of which are likely carcinogen. At the end of vehicle life, PVC causes a host of additional environmental issues. PVC is not easily recycled from auto parts and therefore often ends up in landfills, where the chemicals can leach out and contaminate soil, water and wildlife. Otherwise, it is incinerated or burned for energy recovery, in which case highly toxic dioxins and furans can form and be emitted into the air. Flexible PVC often contains hazardous plasticizers, or 'softeners,' called phthalates, which off-gas during vehicle use and are deposited on dust particles and windshields, where they cause "fogging."
PVC-free alternatives are available: PVC-free alternatives are available for almost every use of PVC in the automotive sector. In recent years, automakers have begun replacing PVC with polyurethanes and polyolefins, which contain fewer harmful additives and are easier to recycle.
On a fleet-wide basis PVC use continues to decline: Zero percent of pre-2006 vehicles had PVC-free interiors. 17% (34) of 2011/2012 vehicle models had PVC-free interiors. Overall 103, 2006-2012 model year vehicles in the HealthyStuff.org vehicle database have PVC-free interiors. A complete list of PVC-free vehicle is available.
Honda phases out PVC: Honda has virtually eliminated PVC, with 83% of its 2011/2012 models being free of PVC in the interiors. HealthyStuff.org testing confirms Honda achievement of its publicly stated commitment in its 2011 North American Environmental Report: "Honda's goal is to reduce the use of materials containing chlorine to a less than 1% concentration in materials that can end up in the waste stream as shredder residue at the end of an automobile's useful life."
PVC Use by make(for 2011/12 model year vehicles): Lowest PVC Use --- Honda, Suzuki & Mazda Highest PVC Use --- Daimler AG, Saab & Volvo
Hazardous flame retardants in vehicles
Brominated flame retardants are widely use in vehicles: brominated flame retardants (BFRs) refers a wide range of brominated chemicals added to materials to both inhibit their ignition and slow their rate of combustion. Commonly used examples include polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) and tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA), as well as brominated polymeric and oligomeric materials. 40% of vehicle tested in 2012 contained BFRs n the vehicle interiors.
Many BFRs are toxic and everywhere: Several BFRs, including certain PBDEs and HBCD, have known toxic properties, are highly resistant to degradation in the environment and are able to bioaccumulate (build up in animals and humans). Some are now widespread environmental pollutants, with higher levels generally being found in the atmosphere and rivers close to urban and industrialised areas. These compounds can be released from such products during use, leading to their presence in household dust and resulting in increased human exposure. And when these products reach the end of their useful lives, some disposal or recycling operations (e.g incineration, smelting and open burning) can release the bromine in other hazardous forms, including as hydrogen bromide and brominated dioxins. Levels of BFR's in the interior vehicle environment are 5-10 higher then homes and offices.
Vehicles can be safe without hazardous flame retardants: HealthyStuff.org testing illustrates that safer alternatives can be used to replace the most hazardous chemical used in vehicles. Alternatives which provide the degree of fire safety required under law without using organic compounds of bromine do already exist, including some direct chemical substitutes, as well as use of alternative materials and even product redesign in order to reduce or eliminate the need for flame-retardant additives.
PVC & BFR-free vehicles are on the market today: Automakers continue to implement alternatives to PVC and BFRs. In 2006 only 2% of vehicle interiors were free of PVC and BFRs. In 2012, 4-times the number of vehicles (8%) were free of PVC and BFRs.
Regional Differences in Chemical Use
This data highlights regional differences in PVC and BFRs between European, Asian and North America assembled vehicles. The country in which vehicles were assembled was tracked using the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). Overall, the progressive regulation of chemical additives in consumer products in Europe and end of life vehicle concerns in Asia is driving elimination of important chemical hazards from vehicles.
Asia: Vehicles assembled in Asia utilized significantly less PVC in vehicle components. On average, vehicles assembled in Japan or Korea showed a 50% reduction in the use of PVC. However, Asia assembled vehicles contained on average over twice the number of components. This data likely reflects the increased focus by Asian manufacturers, lead by Honda, on reducing the amount of chlorine in vehicles due to concerns about emissions during end-of-life vehicle processing.
Europe: Vehicles assembled in Europe utilized the most PVC, more than double the amount of vehicles assembled in other parts of the world. However, levels of BFR use in vehicles are by far the lowest in Europe. This difference likely reflects the impact of European regulations, including the End of Life Vehicle Directive, RHoS and REACH on components being used in vehicles.
North America: While all North American manufacturers market vehicles globally, our data illustrates that US produced vehicles lag behind European and Asian produced vehicles in PVC and BFR use reduction. The US has the weakest chemical regulatory system for chemical in consumer products and provides the fewest incentives for companies to phase-out hazardous chemicals.
Note: HealthyStuff.org only tests for a limited set of chemical hazards. Vehicles may also contain other chemical hazards, including chlorinated flame retardants (CFR) which were NOT tested for in this study