Tuesday December 18 10:03 PM ET
Australian Scientists Warn of New Car Illness
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian scientists have warned that the reassuring smell of a new car actually contains high levels of toxic air emissions which can make drivers ill.

A study by Australia's main scientific body, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), found high levels of toxic emissions in cars for up to six months and longer after they leave the showroom.

``Just as air inside our homes and workplaces is often much more polluted than the air outside, so sitting in a new car can expose you to levels of toxic emissions many times beyond (health guideline) goals,'' said Steve Brown, head of the CSIRO's air quality control research unit.

The toxic emissions include Benzene, a cancer-causing toxin; Acetone, a mucosal irritant; Ethylbenzene, a systemic toxic agent; and Xylene isomers, a foetal development toxic agent.

``To avoid some exposure to this toxic cocktail people who buy new cars should make sure there is plenty of outside air entering the vehicle while they drive for at least six months,'' Brown said in a statement.

The two-year study of three new cars found anecdotal evidence that drivers were becoming ill when they drove their new cars.

A lawyer reported being ill with headaches, lung irritation and swellings for several days after collecting a new car and driving it for only 10 minutes. When he swapped his new car for an 18-month-old car he no longer felt ill.

A public servant felt ill when driving a new government car for the first six months, a chemically sensitized person felt ''spaced out'' when driving any new car and a salesman who regularly updated his car became lethargic on long trips..

The study found two new Australian-made cars had very high levels of volatile organic compounds, up to 64,000 micrograms per cubic meter, three to 10 weeks after manufacture.

A control group of people exposed to half this amount reported within minutes feeling discomfort, drowsiness, fatigue and confusion, eye and ear and nose irritation and headaches.

The toxic air emission levels decrease 60 percent in the first month but were still well above the Australian recommended health level of 500 micrograms per cubic meter, said the CSIRO.

A third car in the study was imported to Australia, but four months after manufacture it contained high levels of toxic air emissions, recording 2,000 micrograms per cubic meter.

``This is still four times more than the recommended goal and remains a concern,'' said Brown.