Forwarded email claims car interiors contain toxic levels of cancer-causing benzene emitted by dashboards, car seats, and air fresheners. It recommends opening windows to expel trapped benzene gas before turning on the car air conditioner.
Description: Email rumor
Circulating since: May 2009
Status: Grain of truth / Overblown (see details below)
Email text contributed by Glennis A., May 11, 2009:
Car A/C (Air Conditioning) MUST READ!!!
Please do NOT turn on A/C as soon as you enter the car.
Open the windows after you enter your car and turn ON the air-conditioning after a couple of minutes.
According to a research, the car dashboard, sofa, air freshener emit Benzene, a Cancer causing toxin (carcinogen - take time to observe the smell of heated plastic in your car).
In addition to causing cancer, Benzene poisons your bones, causes anemia and reduces white blood cells.
Prolonged exposure will cause Leukemia, increasing the risk of cancer. May also cause miscarriage.
Acceptable Benzene level indoors is 50 mg per sq. ft.
A car parked indoors with windows closed will contain 400-800 mg of Benzene. If parked outdoors under the sun at a temperature above 60 degrees F, the Benzene level goes up to 2000-4000 mg, 40 times the acceptable level...
People who get into the car, keeping windows closed will inevitably inhale, in quick succession excessive amounts of the toxin.
Benzene is a toxin that affects your kidney and liver. What's worse, it is extremely difficult for your body to expel this toxic stuff. So friends, please open the windows and door of your car - give time for interior to air out - dispel the deadly stuff - before you enter.
Analysis: While it isn't 100% false, the above text is a font of misinformation.
Starting with the basics, it's true that benzene is a toxic chemical known to produce a variety of ill health effects, including anemia and cancer (specifically leukemia) in humans.
The substance occurs both naturally (mainly as a component of crude oil) and as a byproduct of human activities, e.g. as a component of petroleum-based products (such as gasoline) and products manufactured using benzene as a solvent (such as plastics, synthetic fibers, dyes, glues, detergents, and drugs). It's also a constituent of tobacco smoke.
Low levels of benzene are typically present in outdoor air due to automobile exhaust and industrial emissions. Thanks to vapors emitted by household products such as glues, paints, and furniture wax, even higher levels of benzene can sometimes be found in indoor air, especially in new buildings.
Benzene in cars
Do automobile dashboards, door panels, seats, and other interior components emit benzene, as claimed in the email? Most likely. In most cars these items are made from plastics, synthetic fabrics, and glues, some of which are manufactured using benzene. According to scientists, such items may "off-gas" trace amounts of benzene, especially under hot weather conditions.
As to car air fresheners, there's precious little information available about the ingredients, though one European study found that some household air fresheners emit measurable amounts of benzene. It's not inconceivable that some car air fresheners do, too.
The crucial question is how much. Might all of these potential emitters cumulatively give off enough benzene to harm your health?