Harmful Levels of Benzene Build Up in Parked Automobiles-Fiction!

There are Harmful Levels of Benzene That Build Up in Parked Automobiles So Roll Down Your Windows-Fiction!

Summary of eRumor:

A warning about a chemical called benzene that is linked to cancer such as leukemia .  The warning says that benzene can build up inside parked automobiles and suggests that drivers roll down their windows to ventilate the car’s interior prior to switching on the air conditioner.

The Truth:

Benzene is a harmful chemical that can exist both inside vehicles and in the open air but warnings such as this eRumor about airing out your car interior may be overblown. 

The American Chemical Society released a report in 2007 saying that the interiors of motor vehicles were found to contain of  a “wide variety of synthetic materials, which emit volatile organic compounds.”  The investigation concluded that there was no indication of the emissions being any sort of “apparent health hazard of parked motor vehicle indoor air.”   Click for report.

Benzene comes from coal and petroleum products and is one of the most commonly made chemicals in the United States.  It is a colorless liquid with a sweet smell that evaporates when it makes contact with the air.  Benzene is present in cigarette smoke, car exhausts, and can also be found in glues and paints, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).  The CDC Fact Sheet on Benzene says, “Breathing in unusually high doses of benzene can cause difficulty in thinking, changes in heart function, unconsciousness, or death. In smaller amounts over longer periods of time, benzene can also decrease the formation of blood cells. Benzene is considered to be a cancer-causing chemical.”  

Exposure to benzene can come from consuming contaminated food or beverages but most people come into contact with it by breathing it in the air. The CDC says, “Benzene gets into the air from forest fires, car emissions, gasoline vapors, and tobacco smoke. People who work with petroleum products, including gasoline, are exposed to benzene by touching or breathing in the chemical.”

This warning might have been sparked by a report from almost decade ago by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).  In a December 19, 2001 report, the organization found “high levels of air toxic emissions in new motor vehicles for up to six months and longer after they leave the showroom.” That research, however was conducted on three automobiles manufactured in Australia and one imported vehicle, the origin of which was not revealed.

updated 04/29/10