An environmental group warned Wednesday that vehicle interiors have dangerous levels of toxic chemicals, mainly from flame retardants and plastic softeners.
The group, the Ecology Center, called on automakers to switch to safer alternatives and said lawmakers should ban the chemicals. It urged motorists to protect themselves by keeping their vehicles vacuumed and ventilated.
The flame retardants -- polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs -- are linked to problems with children's brain development and other health issues. The plastic softeners, called phthalates, are believed to interfere with male reproductive system development.
Jeff Gearhart, clean car campaign director for the Ecology Center and co-author of the report, said: "Most people think about cars causing outdoor air pollution, such as smog. Now we know that breathing the air and dust inside of cars may be even more dangerous."
The Ecology Center, of Ann Arbor, Mich., said vehicles may be worse than homes for concentrations of the chemicals. Cars and trucks are exposed to more heat and ultraviolet light, which increase chemical breakdown, center officials said.
The group based its study on dust and windshield film samples in 133 vehicles from the 2000-05 model years.
The organization said some automakers, such as Volvo Car Corp., have started to move to safer alternatives. It said some countries and states are working on legislation or rules that would restrict use of the chemicals.
But automakers believe that the chemicals, such as the flame retardants, are needed to protect people in crashes. They have been shown not to pose a risk to occupants, said Eron Shosteck, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The alliance represents the Big 3 and six import-brand companies.
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