Recently a local monthly newspaper, Echo, ran a story about the unsafe levels of Benzene, a carcinogen, found in sealed, parked cars baking in the sunlight. According to the article (sorry, not available online), off-gassing from all the plastic and petroleum-based components in the car builds up under sunlight. The author advised that drivers and riders ventilate the car before getting in, opening the doors to air out, and then rolling down the windows for a few minutes. Then, he wrote, you should wait to run a vent or air conditioner until a few minutes have passed.
I hate getting into sealed cars baking under the sun anyway, and I found the claim plausible enough given how much toxicity is in the materials we’ve come to consider ordinary. Think flame retardant pillows and jammies for babies and kids. Heavens, I wouldn’t put those near my children’s respiratory systems for anything!
Fact or fiction?
However, there’s more reason in my view to be skeptical concerning, say, an urban legend about ghost hitchhikers or a yearly Bunny Man visitation than about materials made in the industrial economy and the self-interested motivation among the businesses behind them. Those businesses will likely say anything to make it seem like we consumers just worry too much.
From a Thank You for Smoking type scandal in the tobacco industry claiming that cigarettes don’t cause cancer to General Motors trying to quash seat belts in the 1970s under the premise that they’d make cars unaffordable, industry shows again and again that it’s not serving the public interest, but rather private interest and private profits, even if that means tossing us all in the cancer ward.
That said, I don’t know how much Benzene is released in cars both new, and on a daily basis, as their contents ferment plastic-terrarium style under the potent sun, the most powerful energy source on earth. But I do know that Benzene, naturally occurring in petroleum, is a toxic substance. And we’ve got plenty of its particulates in the air because we drive while burning petroleum-based fuels.
So my advise is to go ahead an air out the car for a moment when you’re getting in. What does the extra minute cost you? Sure, make an exception when you’re parked on a lonely, dark street at three in the morning, but otherwise, letting the pent-up air and fumes out of your vehicle and then rolling down the windows for a moment isn’t likely to hurt anything.
And then try walking and biking more.
The bigger issue is how much Benzene we definitely burn into our atmosphere through driving. And whatever the global warming deniers want to say about that situation, they can’t discount the ridiculous cancer rates among people in industrial civilization. It’s going to take us all scaling back on energy use to bring back more eco-harmony across all systems.
Our bodies included.
–Lindsay Curren, Lindsay’s List