Can Air Con Fumes In Hot Cars Cause Cancer?

plastic eggs air conditioning plasticHave you received an email saying your car’s air con could kill you? The jury is still out until more scientific evidence comes in. 

Car and home air conditioning units provide a cooler internal environment, and may also be a possible source of drinking water in emergency situations . But there is another side to air conditioning, especially car AC units, if turned on immediately after the car has been parked for a period of time on a hot summer’s day. This is especially worrying in Middle East countries where it’s hot almost year round.  Consider the following scenario:

You’ve left your car in the parking lot of a shopping mall on a scorching July or August day; and now after returning to it, and with an inside temperature is more than 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit) and you immediately turn on the car’s AC unit. Turning on the AC Unit without first opening the car windows for a few moments can result in  your body receiving dangerous benzene fumes from plastic and other synthetic materials in the car’s dashboard, linings, and upholstery.

This possibility was explored on the myth-busting website Snopes:

Benzene is a toxin that is released from these parts of the car’s interior, and if large amounts of it are ingested, a number of serious health problems can occur including anemia, bone diseases, and cancers like leukemia.

Studies made concerning the levels of benzene released in this manner indicate levels reaching 2000 – 4000 mg or 40 times normal acceptable levels. This is even more true in super hot Middle Eastern locales such  as the UAE and Saudi Arabia where daytime summer temperatures can reach 130 degrees or more in Fahrenheit terms.

The American Cancer Society, warns that over exposure to benzene fumes increases risks to become infected with leukemia and other blood -related diseases. Studies conducted on benzine emissions found that older cars emit more benzene toxin emissions on hot days, ending the myth that these toxins may also be caused by the “new car smell ” of newer models.

To avoid such dangers, it is advised to roll down the car windows for a few moments before turning on the AC. This enables these toxic fumes to escape and will result in them not being absorbed by the body’s lungs and circulatory system.

Even waiting as long as 5 to 8 minutes before turning on the car AC unit could be life saving in regards to preventing the absorption of Benzene and other toxic fumes, including those of plastics like polyethylene and polystyrene that make up parts of the car’s interior.

At high temperatures, these plastics emit quantities of alkyl benzenes and benzoperylene, which may cause cancer, Snopes ascertains.

A second article, by urbanlegends.about.com does disprove a good deal of the warnings noted in the Snopes article, in a second study that states:

Despite the detectable presence of volatile oganic compounds (VOCs), reaching a total of 10.9 mg per cubic meter in a new car and 1.2 mg per cubic meter in an old car, no toxic effects were observed. Apart from noting the slight possibility that allergy-prone individuals might find their condition exacerbated by exposure to such compounds, the study concluded there is “no apparent health hazard of parked motor vehicle indoor air.”

In 2011, a Cancer.org MD refuted the claims made on the circulating email:

“We found no published studies that confirm the claims of this e-mail. Benzene levels that exceed recommendations for chronic workplace exposure have been observed in some moving cars, but these levels seem unlikely in properly maintained cars.

“Still, if you’re concerned about benzene levels in cars (especially in cars with the engine running), there’s no harm in opening the windows periodically or using an air-conditioner setting that circulates air from outside the vehicle.”

The jury is out. To be on the safe side, when in doubt, open your car windows prior to turning on the AC.

Photo: toofasteddie.com

More on AC Units and record summer temperatures:

Time to Drink Water from Air Con Units
Linum Systems Makes Cool from the Heat of the Sun
Record High Summer Temperatures are also Scorching the Middle East

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4 thoughts on “Can Air Con Fumes In Hot Cars Cause Cancer?”

  1. Ariel says:

    It´s fun how this text links to a Snopes article, but the text it attributes to it is nowhere to be found on the original Text. The Snopes article claims that all this is FALSE, but the author of this piece makes up an opinion and attributes it to that site.
    And still, it links to an urbanlegends.about.com that also claims this is false and a Cancer.org MD that also refutes the claims in the mail. And references the ACS statement about benzene in general but the author links it specifically to “Benzene emmissions of cars”.

    All the articles concurr that a parked car does not emit dangerous amounts of benzene, not from the dashboard and not even from older cars.

    And yet, after all those negations, the author still recommends rolling down the windows just to be “on the safe side”

    This is quackerty. Pure scaremonging.

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  3. Huda Abukhoti says:

    This is terrifying to read. Certainly gonna change my habit and my family’s in turning the AC on as soon as we get in. Thank you for posting this

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