The Internet and TV media are having fun about the “dangers” of the “New Car Smell” which subliminally lures the buyer even of a used car to be more prone to opt for the vehicle. The new car smell, which becomes especially pungent after the car has been sitting in the sun for a few hours, is partly the pungent odor of phthalates along with many other chemicals volatilizing in the closed environment of the vehicle.

It is not so humorous when you consider the chemicals are inhaled and added to the many toxic volatile chemicals in your environment including your home, your office and your yard. In fact, I wrote a book about it, A Consumer’s Dictionary of Household, Yard and Office Chemicals first published by Crown in 1992 and now available as an updated E-book.

Phthalates, derived from the organic chemical phthalic acid, include a large group of chemicals. World production of phthalates is estimated to be several million tons a year. . Phthalate compounds are used in just about every major product category including cosmetics, construction, automotive, household, apparel, toys packaging and medicinal material. You undoubtedly have phthalates in your body. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has detected phthalates in the urine of every Americans tested. Minute levels of phthalates used in toys, building materials, drug capsules, cosmetics and perfumes, have been statistically linked to sperm damage in men and genital changes, asthma and allergies in children. .Recent observations indicate some phthalates may be mutagenic, and cancer-causing

In 2004, the European Union banned phthalates in nailpolish. The FDA said in 2004 that phthalates are safe for humans in the amounts to which we are exposed. In 2008, The National Research Council (NRC) launched a project funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate the potential health effects of phthlates including accumulative risks

Cynics say there are so many reports of minute amount of toxins and there is really nothing to worry about. It’s the dose that counts. But I always say tell me how much of a carcinogen causes cancer and what is the effect of the chemicals around us, in us and on us?, Here’s a pertinent quote, I believe, from my A Consumer’s Dictionary of Household, Yard and Office Chemicals by Devra Davis, PhD, MPH, Director, Center for Environmental Oncology, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Pittsburgh, PA, At the Annual Conference of the American Medical Writers Association in 2005. She said among the reasons scientists believe in environmental causes of cancer:

  • Fewer than 1 in 10 cases of breast cancer occur in women born with genetic defects. The others are believed to be environmental.
  • The cancer risk for adopted children reflects their adoptive parents, not their biologic parents.
  • Fewer than half of identical twins get the same cancer.
  • Rates of cancer are higher for people employed outside the home.
  • The cancer risk for immigrants changes to that of their new country.
  • The majority of cancer cases have no known risk factors.
  • Disease is more aggressive in women with higher residues of toxins in their blood.

Manufacturers say there is no reliable evidence that phthalates cause any health problems. Newly identified markers are providing a better indication of our exposure to phthalates. So next time you sniff at the potential of adverse effects of the “New Car Scent” don’t laugh. That new car smell, which becomes especially noticeable after the car has been sitting in the sun for a few hours, is partly the pungent odor of phthalates volatilizing and many other chemicals floating around the enclosed environment of your car, especially if the temperature is high.


If you follow my blogs and books, you may know that I am fascinated by nanotechnology and at the same time astounded the general public almost completely ignores the promise and peril of these nearly invisible molecules. The lack of attention from consumers may be because they think it is science fiction or it is a technology that even the scientists and regulators don’t fully understand.

In the Seventh Edition of my Consumers’ Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients which will be published in October 2009 by Crown/Three Rivers Press, I write:

“What is nanotechnology and why is it important to cosmetic manufacturers despite the caution of scientists, government agencies and consumers? Nanotechnology is the ability to measure, see, manipulate and manufacture things usually between 1 and 100 nanometers. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter; a human hair is roughly 100,000 nanometers wide. Some of the applications of the tiny substances are from practical to fantastic to potentially dangerous. Although the nanotechnology industry is just starting out, it is already booming. It is projected to capture 14% of the US $2.6 trillion global manufacturing market… In contrast, it made up less than 0.1% just three years ago. The nanoparticle size positively affects dispersibility, skin feel and transparency on the skin.
     Some critics of nanotechnology say that nanoparticles could easily be inhaled absorbed through the skin or build up in the environment. Others have likened the materials to asbestos, which is now known to cause lung cancer and other diseases. When nanoparticles in cosmetics penetrate the skin and move around the body what happens to them? No one knows because at this writing, they are untraceable.
     A recent report based on research from US scientists, for example, shows that nanoparticles used in certain sun cream formulations can affect mice brain cells by upsetting the chemical balance and potentially causing neurological damage. The Study, carried out by Bellina Veronesi of the US Environmental Protection Agency and published on the website, looked at the affects of nano-sized Titania, now commonly used in sun cream formulations and often labeled titanium oxide…Although Veronesi stressed that the research does not necessarily imply that the Titania grains are harmful to the human body and other experts have aired caution over the interpretation of the findings, it does add to a growing body of research that suggests potential risks might exists when certain compounds are reduced to nano size.”
        “Dr. Andrew Maynard, science advisor to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, is an internationally recognized expert on airborne particles. According to Maynard, aerosol sprays can produce breathable particles a few micrometers in size that can remain airborne for long periods of time and can reach the sensitive deep lung if inhaled. Once deposited, there is the possibility of chemicals or nanoparticles (if present) in the droplets causing damage.
    “David Rejeski, Director, Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center says “We are about to be inundated with hundreds, if not thousands, of new products but governments are not ready. Industry and trade groups are not prepared. A research strategy for addressing possible human health or environmental risks is not in place, and the public is not informed.”
    The Consumers Union wrote to the FDA asking that they require a full safety assessment on the use of nanoparticles in cosmetics, sunscreens and sunblocks, before a product is allowed to market. In addition, the group has called for the labeling of nanoparticles in products so that consumers can make an informed choice. “

In the Seventh Edition of my Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives which was published by Crown/Three Rivers in April 2009, I wrote, in part, of nanotechnology and food:

New developments, however, are never without warning. Many scientists and consumers are wary of nanotech food. For example, certain nanoparticles possess the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and can serve as carriers for other molecules. Information on the bioaccumulation and potential toxic effects of inhalation and/or ingestion of free engineered nanoparticles and their long-term implications for public health is needed. Nanoscale materials may also present new challenges in relation to exposure assessment, including measurement of nanoparticles in the body and in complex food composition.
    “Approval systems for food additives have not, in the past, taken much heed of the particle size of the additive. For nanoparticles, this is obviously an important aspect since nanoparticles may be handled differently in the body than their previously approved, macro counterparts. It is likely that the approach will vary from country to country. Most scientific committees that have reviewed the initial applications of nanotechnology conclude that while consumers are likely to benefit from this technology, new data and new measurement approaches may be needed to ensure that the safety of products using nanotechnology are properly assessed. Food industry experts predict that nanotechnology will have a significant impact on food products in a variety of ways both directly and indirectly. Most foodstuffs contain natural nanoscale particles. Nanotechnology-based products are increasingly being used to produce antimicrobial food contact materials commercially available as packaging or as coatings. Current research on such ‘smart’ surfaces is aimed at the development of surfaces that can detect bacterial contamination and react against bacterial growth.
Nanoscale materials may also present new challenges in relation to exposure assessment, including measurement of nanoparticles in the body and in complex food composition.”
     Cosmetics and food aren’t the only promise and perils linked to nanotechnology. Demand for nanotechnology medical products will grow by more than 17 percent annually to reach $53 billion in 2011, according to a recent report from The Freedonia Group. By 2016, new products such as nanodiagnostics, nanotech-based medical supplies and nanomedicines will drive demand to more than $110 billion, the report added.
    The advocates of nanohealthcare say the technology will enhance the quality and performance of diagnostic products. For example, nanosized antibodies labels and DNA probes will improve the speed, accuracy, capabilities and cost effectiveness of in laboratory diagnostic testing. Freedonia anticipated these performance advantages and the broadening range of nanodiagnostics will increase demand for these products
    The group predicted that the long-term impact of nanotechnology will include new medical supply and device coatings, as well as new medical implants. Fredonia Group predicted the greatest short-term healthcare advances due to nanotechnology will be in therapies and diagnostics for cancer and central nervous system disorders, The organization also predicted that many other major diseases, as well as injuries, will eventually be treated and detected with nanotechnology products.
     I will be writing more about how advances in nanotechnology will affect electronics and computing, medicine, cosmetics, foods, the military, energy. By 2020, $1 trillion worth of products could be nano-engineered in some way. They may be invaluable but who knows? There is no way, as yet, to find out what happens to these tiny particles in our bodies.