For the study, researchers observed sealed, new cars parked outside for 12 days to see how 20 common VOCs would affect their environments. The result? They found that levels of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde were above China’s national safety standards by 35 and 61 percent, respectively. These VOCs could affect someone through inhalation or dermal uptake (skin contact).
The combination of these VOCs poses a “high health risk” for drivers, particularly through inhalation, playing “a significant role in the risk of cancer for drivers and passengers exposed to VOCs.”1
What Is Formaldehyde?
According to the American Cancer Society, formaldehyde is a colorless but strong-smelling chemical that, at room temperature, is a gas. It’s commonly used in adhesives, glues, fiberboard, and insulation materials and has been shown to cause nose cancer and leukemia in lab animals.
In people, there has been a proven link between formaldehyde exposure and nasopharynx cancer — which is cancer of the upper throat behind the nose — as well as cancer of the nasal sinuses and leukemia.2 Formaldehyde made up nearly 26 percent of a new car’s VOCs in the study, although it’s certainly not something people look for in new cars.
What Is Acetaldehyde?
Acetaldehyde, meanwhile, made up 20 percent of new cars’ VOCs. It’s a clear liquid with a strong odor of fruit that is used to produce other chemicals, such as disinfectants. In a car, acetaldehyde can enter the body through inhalation, affecting someone’s blood vessels, lungs, and heart. Repeated damage can severely damage the lungs and cause cancer.3