Volvo's new XC60 model is the latest in their range to receive a big thumbs up for having low levels of potentially harmful chemicals making it safer for those with allergies and sensitivities and every driver and passenger.
Volvo has also based its reputation on passenger safety and has a list of innovations to back this up. The company was the first to introduce three-point seat belts in both the front and rear, was the first to deploy aribags and anti-lock brakes (ABS) in their cars, and the first to include crumple zones, energy-absorbing bumpers, and side impact protection.
The company has also been the first to recognise that passenger safety doesn't just mean protection in the event of a collision but also includes the health of the vehicle occupants during normal driving conditions.
Following a report on car interior air quality by the Ecology Center, a US non-profit environmental organisation, in 2006 in which Volvo topped the tables, a spokesman said "Safety is more than crumple zones and air bags."
Now their latest vehicle the XC60, an SUV/Crossover, has become the fourth to be reccomended by the Swedish Asthma and Allergy Association as a good choice for allergy sufferers, following previous endorsements of the S80, V70, and XC70.
Much of the "new car smell" which people generally find pleasant is actually due to a number of toxic chemicals such as PBDEs, used as flame retardants, and phthalates, used to soften PVC plastics. Both chemicals have traditionally been used as additives in many interior car parts, from seat fabrics and carpets, to dashboards and roof linings.
According to the Ecology Center PBDEs are structurally similar to PCBs and dioxins (both of which have been phased out in developed nations). PBDEs, they say, have been linked to neuro-developmental damage, thyroid hormone disruption and liver toxicity in animals.
Phthalates such as DEHP are found in a large variety of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products, and have been linked to birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, premature births and early puberty in lab animals. Phthalates are also thought to be endocrine-disrupters (they interfere with hormones) and are banned in children's toys in Europe with similar legislation pending in other countries and in California.
Volvo has succeeded in reducing such harmful chemicals in their car interiors by using only materials that meet the Oeko-Tex 100 standard. Again Volvo was the first manufacturer to do with the the 1998 S80 being the first car to be Oeko-Tex 100 certified. All of their cars now meet this standard.
As well as PBDEs and phthalates the Association analyses textiles for pH-value, formaldehyde content, the presence of pesticides, extractable heavy metals, chlorinated organic compounds and preservatives such as pentachlorophenol and tetrachlorophenol. The tests also include checks for any MAC amines in azo dyestuffs and allergy-inducing dyestuffs.
Oeko-Tex tests textiles for use in baby articles, articles which come into contact with large areas of the skin, or to which the skin is exposed for long periods, outerwear, and furnishing fabrics.
Volvo has been working for many years on creating a clean interior climate which is also suitable for people who are particularly sensitive, such as those suffering from asthma and allergies, a company press releasesaid following the Ecology Center's 2006 report.
That report found that as well as Volvo the Japanese and other European manufacturers faired well with Hyundai, Honda, Toyota and BMW having low levels of toxic chemicals present in their car interiors. Following the report other manufacturers have been working hard to lower the toxic load in their cars with many also aiming for Oeko-Tex 100 certification of interior materials.
This is great news for everybody but particularly those who suffer from asthma and allergies (both inhalant and skin contact) as well as people who suffer from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).
In MCS even minute amounts of volatile chemicals cause symptoms ranging from dizziness, confusion and headaches to serious respiratory problems. Car interiors have traditionally been one of the worst places for sufferers who often have to wear carbon filter masks to protect themselves while travelling in vehicles. Recognition of the problems of toxic car interiors and efforts to rectofy the situation will certainly be seen as a step in the right direction.
Car owners, asthma, allergy and MCS sufferers in particular, may benefit from the following tips to minimise the breakdown, release and exposure to vehicle interior pollutants:
- Park away from direct sunlight (pollutants released at faster rate in sun)
- Use solar reflectors
- Vacuum often
- Open windows and ventilate interior as often as possible
Visit the Ecology Center's HealthyCar.org