Cancer-linked flame retardants found in car interiors

By Ellie Borst | 05/07/2024 01:13 PM EDT

“This is a significant public health issue,” said the study’s lead author, prompting calls to revisit outdated fire safety standards.

The empty driver's seat is shown in a driverless Chevrolet Bolt car.

A new report finds cancer-linked flame retardants inside many cars. Michael Liedtke/AP

Researchers found dangerous flame retardants associated with cancer inside most cars tested, sparking calls for regulators to revisit decades-old vehicle flammability standards.

According to a study published Tuesday in the American Chemical Society’s peer-reviewed journal, 99 percent of vehicles tested showed air concentrations of tris(1-chloro-isopropyl) phosphate, or TCIPP, a chemical flame retardant used in car seat foam linked to hormonal and reproductive issues. It is also currently being assessed as a potential carcinogen.

“Our research found that interior materials release harmful chemicals into the cabin air of our cars,” lead author Rebecca Hoehn, a scientist at Duke University, said in a statement. “Considering the average driver spends about an hour in the car every day, this is a significant public health issue. It’s particularly concerning for drivers with longer commutes as well as child passengers, who breathe more air pound for pound than adults.”


The study, led by Duke researchers and funded by the National Institutes of Health, found traces of 17 different flame retardants in the 101 sampled cars, all with a model year of 2015 or newer. The researchers also revealed that air concentrations of flame retardants were two to five times higher in the summer compared with the winter, a direct correlation between higher temperatures and increased exposure risks.