Why certain car seats can risk our health over time

New research shows that a substantial amount of a carcinogenic substance is present in the foam padding in car seats. The researchers conducted the study at participants in zebrafish and humans.

Our car seats can pose a health hazard because some of them contain a potentially carcinogenic chemical.
Our car seats can pose a health hazard because some of them contain a potentially carcinogenic chemical.

According to a new study from the University of California, Riverside, people who have a regular, long commute to work which involves driving or being a passenger in a car that unknowingly put their health at risk.

The new study shows that the foam used in the padding of some car seats by manufacturers contains potentially hazardous amounts of a compound that specialists say may cause cancer. The results of the study appear in the journal Environment International.

The toxic chemical is the phosphate tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl), also known as “chlorinated tris,” or TDCIPP.

TDCIPP highlights that the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment issues on the Proposition 65 list. The list tracks substances, including birth defects, that can cause cancer or other health issues.

While TDCIPP is a known carcinogen, it is still used by many companies– particularly in the automotive industry– as a flame retardant in the foam that pads car seats.

The new study suggests that people may be exposed to the dangerous chemical by long car commutes.

Possible effect on fertility

Associate Professor David Volz and his colleagues have been researching the potential health effects of TDCIPP and related chemicals since 2011.

The researchers were still surprised to find out how harmful the TDCIPP that is present in car seats could be for people.

In the current study, the researchers found that the chemicals impeded their normal development when they exposed zebrafish embryos to TDCIPP.

This finding is consistent with those of earlier human studies, which identified a strong association between TDCIPP exposure and fertility issues that led people to attempt in vitro fertilization.

A set of surprising findings

To expand on this knowledge, the researchers wanted to verify if people on their commutes could be exposed to potentially harmful TDCIPP concentrations through their car seats.

In the University of California, Riverside, they recruited 88 participants from among students.

For their study, both participants had to travel daily and their round trip times ranged from less than 15 minutes to more than 2 hours each day.

The researchers asked the participants to wear silicone bracelets to find out whether each of these individuals was exposed to a significant level of the carcinogenic substance.

As the investigators demonstrate, the explanation for that is that silicone absorbs airborne molecules. In addition, TDCIPP does not bind to the foam in the seat, and in time, this substance’s molecules may become “unstuck” and float around freely. Hence there is a high likelihood that people will inhale them.

The researchers asked participants to wear the silicone bracelets for 5 days, after which they checked them to see if they had detected any TDCIPP molecules and similar substances.

Only TDCIPP ended up sticking to the wristbands in substantial amounts and, as co-author Aalekyha Reddam— a university graduate student — says,”[ y]our sensitivity to TDCIPP is higher the longer you spend on your car.”

“I’ve been rather pessimistic about[ the research] because I didn’t think we’d pick up a significant[ chemical] concentration in that short time frame, let alone pick up a commute time correlation,” Volz admits.

However, he says,”[ w]e did so, which was truly surprising.”

The researchers would have had to collect and analyze urine samples to determine if the chemical had reached the bodies of the participants. Though they haven’t done so, they think it’s very likely that the individuals have ended up inhaling TDCIPP.

“Because of how difficult it is to prevent ingestion and inhalation of dust we believe[ this is what happened],” Volz says.

Further studies necessary

The researchers plan to carry out the same analysis with a greater number of participants of different ages in the future. We also aim to establish how humans can defend themselves from exposure to this and related chemicals.

The results of the current study have concerned the researchers about the potential effect of those secret enemies.

“If we picked up this relationship in 5 days, what does that mean for chronic, long-term exposure, for people who commute most weeks out of the year, year over year, for decades?”

– David Volz

For now, the researchers suggest car owners often dust their cars and follow the guidelines of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on limiting exposure to flame retardant chemicals closely.

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