It’s the dead-heat of summer, and inside your car you can smell the plastic melting, as you hastily turn the AC on after a prolonged period in the parking lot at work. Everything is hot to the touch, and even the radio controls seem a tad soft in your hands, as you hastily crack a window in order to get some fresh air in the car. But don’t breath too deep guys, because there is a new threat emerging, and no recall can save us from this one: the cars we drive are trying to turn us into a bunch of softies.
Yeah, you read right. That shiny plastic dash, all of those ergonomic buttons, the gauges you glance at, and even the damn buckle you clip your seatbelt into could be manipulating your genetic make-up. In a recent report by the Guardian, a study done by researchers at the University of Missouri was used to illustrate the discovery that the hormone-disrupting gene bisphenol A (BPA) is floating in the air we breath in far higher amounts than previously expected, causing even the manliest of us to wonder if our cars are a genuine threat to our machismo.
Okay, so it may not be that bad, but this study does shows that high concentrations of heated plastics are leaching into water and air at a rapid pace, which is one of the reasons why all the plastic water bottles you see these days say “BPA Free.” A while back, NPR conducted an in-depth investigation on how scientists are unable to pinpoint what is causing these hormone-hampering anomalies to mutate our masculinity, with the scariest part being that BPA isn’t even the worst offender in plastics. The evidence is there, but there isn’t much we can do about it: Almost all cars are made from a crap-ton of plastic these days, and going back to leather, metal, and wood would bankrupt almost every automaker out there.
“We’ve long cautioned consumers to avoid extreme heat and cooling for plastics, [and] to discard scratched and worn plastics,” says Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group. But while our cars are subjected to insane amounts of heat and cold on an annual basis, it isn’t like we are going to give-up driving our most prized possessions either. So if there is no escaping this air-born, estrogen-enhancing destroyer of all things macho, what can we do to protect both our masculinity and our windshield time?
In short, there isn’t much we can do outside of parking in the shade, spending the money on a heated garage, and keeping the windows down until the interior reaches an acceptable temperature. In order to better understand what is going on, it’s necessary to look at what makes these invisible chemicals such a threat. “The study found these chemicals even in products that didn’t contain BPA,” NPR said.
Results in the aforementioned study show that more than 70% of the food-related products tested released chemicals that acted like estrogen, and that was before they exposed the stuff to real-world conditions, when simulated sunlight and heat send the estrogen levels skyward. While the tested products were all food-oriented in one way or another, many of these plastics share a similar compound structure with the interior trim in most cars, so after eight hours in the sun, that car is likely to be quite the estrogen-enriched sauna.
This is where the Guardian’s report comes into the equation. Christopher Kassotis, the lead researcher at the University of Missouri on this study, said that “studies looking at the BPA on receipt paper have revealed that large amounts of the chemical enter the bloodstream from just holding a receipt,” and that “there’s significant aerial exposure as well.”
According to Canadian researchers, “the liver converts BPA into a compound called BPA-gluconide, which has been linked to obesity in human and animal studies,” the Guardian reported. This leaves us wondering — what other toxins are in the plastics we depend upon everyday? If touching a freshly printed, piping-hot receipt puts us in jeopardy, what are our risk levels within the car?
Quite honestly, no one really knows. These findings are so fresh that scientists haven’t begun to dive under the dash of our cars. Now that it has been proven that “both exposure from touch and from air can have more of a biological effect than oral ingestion,” we wonder if cars will one day receive stamps that say “BPA Free.”