Motorists are being exposed to a cancer-causing chemical widely found in automobile seat foam, which could have harmful long-term health effects, according to findings released Friday by UC Riverside researchers.

Their study found that less than a week of commuting resulted in an elevated exposure to a flame retardant known as TDCIPP or chlorinated tris, which is forced out of car seats over time and into the air.

The chemical has been flagged by the state as a known carcinogen and was phased out of furniture use. Some studies have also linked it to infertility among women undergoing fertility treatments, the researchers said.

Participants in the study included about 90 students, each of whom had round-trip commute times that varied from less than 15 minutes to more than two hours. All of them were given silicone wristbands to wear continuously for five days to captured airborne contaminants.

“I went into this rather skeptical because I didn’t think we’d pick up a significant concentration in that short a time frame, let alone pick up an association with commute time,” said David Volz, an associate professor of environmental toxicology at UCR. “We did both, which was really surprising.”

Researchers found that a person’s exposure level was higher the more time they spent in their vehicle.

“If we picked up this relationship in five days, what does that mean for chronic, long-term exposure, for people who commute most weeks out of the year, year over year for decades?” Volz asked.

The research team included collaborators at Duke University and was funded by the National Institutes of Health, as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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