That new car smell is really the scent of toxic chemicals

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The distinctive smell of fresh upholstery, gleaming plastic and polished paintwork is one of the pleasures of owning a new car. Until now. That seductive "new car smell" can be dangerous to your health.

Many new cars emit a cocktail of potentially toxic chemicals that can cause headaches, nausea and drowsiness. For some people, these compounds can even provoke serious allergic reactions.

The problem is worrying many of the big car-makers. Some, such as Toyota, Ford and Volvo, are embarking on little-publicised programmes to cut down on the toxic and allergenic chemicals.

But these measures have raised questions about the Government's failure to take action on people's exposure to household chemicals.

Unlike in countries such as Sweden and Japan, there are no official regulations in the UK to limit the public's exposure to suspect chemicals and compounds inside their homes or cars.

Japanese manufacturers such as Honda, Toyota and Nissan have launched a scheme to cut 13 toxic chemicals after finding that levels of dangerous compounds were several times higher in cars than allowed under Japan's strict air-safety limits for homes and offices.

The risky materials and chemicals used include styrene, benzene and formaldehyde, and Latex, a known allergen. On top of that, some of the flame retardants used are known to cause cancer.