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That new car smell and your health

Pacific Prime China looks at air pollution inside your car and whether it is harmful to your health and what this means for your medical insurance.

Posted on Aug 21, 2015 by Rob McBroom

According to various sources, the number of cars on the road in China in 2014 was estimated to be nearly 20 million and will do nothing but continue to grow. The rapid explosion in the number of cars on the road in China has led to increased pollution and in fact China's Environmental Protection ministry named vehicle exhaust as one of the three key contributors to Beijing's growing pollution problem, according to an article published by China Daily in 2014.

While this is certainly something to be aware of, there is another common pollution related to cars in China that you should be aware of: Pollution in the interior of your car. On a smoggy day, it can often feel like the interior of a vehicle is a little oasis from the pollution, one where you can literally breathe easier. The thing is, this may not always be the case as it has been discussed that the interior of your car has become the third largest indoor air pollution source.

Looking at air pollution inside cars in China

Researching pollution inside your car will often uncover that the most common forms of pollution is VOC, or Volatile Organic Compounds that according to Wikipedia are, "are organic chemicals that have a high vapor pressure at ordinary room temperature." These compounds are extremely varied and often are attributed to scents and odours, and can be both harmless and harmful.

When it comes to the interior of your car there are a number of common VOCs and groups of chemicals present that can give off VOCs. In fact, the oh so popular 'new car smell' is actually from the gases/odours given off by the chemicals including things like glues, paints, etc. in the creation of the interior of your car. According to a report published by the Greenguard Environmental institute, "Exposure to these substances can exacerbate allergy and asthma symptoms and cause eye, nose and throat irritation; cough; headache; general flu-like illnesses; and skin irritation. Some also are known to cause cancer and neurological effects."  

Combine this with the fact that the interior of your car is not hermetically sealed - air from outside the cabin will get in, along with the pollution in it - and it makes sense that you may actually be exposed to increased pollution levels while in your vehicle.

But what if your car isn't new? Well the thing is, the chemicals used in the creation of the materials in the interior of your car don't usually disappear with age - they may fade in strength, but will likely never fully disappear. This means that should the temperature of your car increase - as it does in the hot summer sun - there is an increased chance that the chemicals will vaporize, exposing you to some potentially harmful chemicals.

What is being done to improve the air quality in cars?

While chemicals and other pollutants inside your car can lead to increased health issues, there are a number of things being done in China to negate or offset this. In 2011 the Ministry of Environment Protection and the Administration of Quality Supervision jointly released a set of guidelines that established a precedence and assessment tool for the air quality in cars. When first released these guidelines where simply that - guidelines - manufacturers were free to ignore them if they wanted to. But, with the ever increasing pollution in major cities the government is rumoured to be considering turning these guidelines into mandates. This means manufacturers will be required to meet strict regulations in relation to harmful VOCs and therefore cleaner air (hopefully) inside your car.

Beyond steps being taken by Beijing to reduce pollution in the nation's cities, many car manufacturers are introducing and marketing features related to reducing air pollution inside the vehicle. For example, as the WSJ highlights, Volvo is marketing a multifilter that can filter air to remove things like pollen, odors and more. Infiniti (Nissan's luxury brand) also has a similar system, called Forest Air/Forest AC, that they actively market in the region. Many other producers are starting to also promote HEPA air filters that are touted as being able to reduce the pollution levels inside your car. These are solid steps that if maintained properly could help decrease your exposure to harmful VOCs.

One knock on effect to be aware of

One might wonder how, or why, a health insurance company is talking about air pollution in cars in China. The answer is simple: It is widely known that increased exposure to harmful air of any kind can drastically impact your overall health. If you spend a large amount of time in traffic - as one can do in major cities in China - cars with polluted air inside the cockpit could have negative effects on your health. This means that over time you will probably need to visit the doctor more, for more serious issues.

As any expat in China knows, healthcare in the country is varied - both in quality and cost. If you do get sick because of polluted air, you are likely going to want to visit a private medical facility which can be incredibly costly. Therefore, it would be a good idea to secure medical insurance that can help offset and even cover the costs of ongoing conditions that develop while you live in China. To find a plan that's right for you, contact the experts at Pacific Prime China today.


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