Reducing Volatile Organic Compound Content
in Passenger Vehicles
The presence of harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in consumer products is becoming an increasing source of concern for both consumers and manufacturers. This is especially prevalent in the automotive industry, where a huge variety of components and materials from different original equipment manufacturers are used in any given vehicle. Due to a lack of comprehensive regulation of vehicle interior air quality and the use of harmful chemicals in automotive manufacturing, the responsibility falls on manufacturers to ensure their vehicles are safe. Consequently, automotive companies are taking increasing care to source ultra-low VOC components from reputable manufacturers to ensure the wellbeing of their customers.
Tecman UK are a leading responsible manufacturer in the automotive industry, developing ultra-low VOC adhesive tapes used in automobile interiors.
Almost everyone is familiar with the distinctive smell of a new car. In the 1960s, Rolls Royce went so far as to analyze the interior of one of their vehicles, identifying 800 compounds which could then be used to reproduce their “new car smell”.1 This was used by other vehicle manufacturers to recreate and enhance the smell which became associated with the luxury of owning a new vehicle.
However, the source of this aroma is far from luxurious. Research shows that the “new car smell” in its various forms is caused largely by a mixture of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which leach from plastic components throughout the car into the interior air. The host of VOCs, semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs or FOG emissions) and particulate matter (PM) along with other compounds are all present in the air inside vehicles at levels exceeding the ambient norm.2 Off-gassing of VOCs is most pronounced in new vehicles, and the problem can be accelerated further when heat from the sun increases the rate of emissions.
While not all VOCs are harmful to human health, many are. Research shows that a long list of known carcinogenic and toxic VOCs including benzene, toluene, ethyl-benzene, xylenes, styrene and formaldehyde have been detected inside the cabins of passenger vehicles.3 The list of known health effects that can result from exposure to these chemicals is long. Many VOCs are known to cause hormonal disruption, damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system, and even cancer.4 Even short-term exposure to VOCs is known to cause symptoms including nausea, dizziness, headaches.
Research suggests that in the USA people spend around 5.5% of their time inside vehicles.5 Elevated presence of VOCs in passenger vehicles could therefore represent a serious threat to public health. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the potential risks associated with elevated levels of VOCs inside vehicles, and this is placing pressure on manufacturers to tighten their regulation of substances used during manufacturing.
VOC Regulation Around the World
In the European Union, REACH regulations force manufacturers to register substances used, which are then individually evaluated for compliance. But governmental regulation of acceptable limits of these harmful compounds in vehicle interiors is slow to adapt to growing concerns over public health.
While many other countries and regions regulate use of harmful substances in most instances, including vehicles, many don’t. In the USA, for instance, legislation to increase the regulation of harmful chemicals lags behind at the federal level and has failed to gain traction.6
Even where efforts are being made to curtail VOC levels inside vehicles, recent research shows that drivers and passengers continue to face high exposure levels of a number of harmful VOCs, and that these pose a significant risk for public health.2 It therefore falls on automobile manufacturers to assume responsibility, with independent testing, for the health of their customers rather than simply conform to possibly inadequate regulatory guidelines.8
In order to better quantify and compare automobile interior air quality, the German Automobile Association developed VDA 278, a standardized testing procedure for measuring VOC and FOG levels.7 In the method specified by VDA 278, samples are obtained using a glass adsorption tube to capture airborne compounds within a car. In the analysis phase, the adsorption tube is heated to 90C so that compounds are thermally desorbed. These desorbed compounds are then analyzed by gas chromatography and mass-spectrometry (GCMS).8 This combination of analytical techniques allows for accurate identification of chemicals present in a sample as well as measurement of their concentrations.
A number of automobile manufacturers are already taking steps to ensure that levels of VOCs and other harmful airborne compounds are minimized in their vehicles. For example, use of poly-vinyl chloride (PVC), a known carcinogen, is decreasing in automotive applications, with manufacturers such as Honda claiming to have eliminated the material from all their vehicles. Increasingly, responsible OEMs are choosing to source low-VOC components from manufacturers.
The methods described in VDA 278 provide a way for independent testers to verify the safety of components used in automobiles with regards to air quality. Quality assurance providers Intertek are accredited by leading OEMs to carry out VOC/FOG emissions testing of automotive components. Intertek offer over 50 different testing procedures for quantifying air quality to various specifications including those of Toyota, Peugeot and Volkswagen; as well as those of the German Automotive Association such as VDA 278.9
As a leading manufacturer of adhesive tape for the automotive industry, Tecman UK is committed to responsible manufacturing practices and has developed a portfolio of ultra-low VOC products to address these issues.
Ultra-Low VOC Adhesive Tapes for Automotive Interior Applications
Adhesive tape is increasingly becoming the preferred bonding solution in vehicle interiors due to many advantages including weight reduction and rapid assembly. As an organization, Tecman UK is aware of the dangers associated with VOCs in vehicles, and is proud to offer ultra-low VOC bonding solutions for vehicle interior applications.10 By using specially formulated low-VOC adhesives, Tecman adhesive tapes provide reliable and versatile bonding solutions without the potentially harmful chemical emissions of other tapes and adhesives.
Tecman UK is an advanced materials manufacturing company that provides engineered components for bonding, surface protection and thermal and acoustic management. Specifically, for the automotive industry, these include adhesive tape; mounting interior trim; seals and gaskets; and buzz, squeak and rattle prevention (BSRP).
References and Further Reading
- IAQUK VOCs. http://www.iaquk.org.uk/ResourcesVOC.html
- Xu, B., Chen, X. & Xiong, J. Air quality inside motor vehicles’ cabins: A review. Indoor Built Environ. 27, 452–465 (2018).
- Chen, X., Feng, L., Luo, H. & Cheng, H. Analyses on influencing factors of airborne VOCS pollution in taxi cabins. Environ. Sci. Pollut. Res. 21, 12868–12882 (2014).
- Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality. https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality
- KLEPEIS, N. E. et al. The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): a resource for assessing exposure to environmental pollutants. J. Expo. Sci. Environ. Epidemiol. 11, 231–252 (2001).
- BBC - Autos - Is new-car smell bad for your health? http://www.bbc.com/autos/story/20160315-is-new-car-smell-bad-for-your-health
- VDA 278 Analysis Using Thermal Desorption. http://www.ingenieria-analitica.com/downloads/dl/file/id/3531/product/66/vda_278_analysis_using_td.pdf
- Che, J., Deng, G., Liang, L., Huebschmann, H.-J. & Fisher Scientific, T. Determination of Volatile Compounds in Automotive Interior Materials by Thermal Desorption GC-MS.
- Automotive Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Testing. Available at: http://www.intertek.com/automotive/voc
- Tissue Tape | Ultra Low VOC | Supplier. Available at: https://www.tecmanuk.com/product-services/products/double-sided-adhesive-tape/tissue-tape/12-ts07-tissue-tape/. (Accessed: 18th May 2019)