While interacting with a state Tourette syndrome group in Orlando, we started brainstorming the fact that many in the audience said their tics worsen when in a vehicle. (Ed. Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder characterised by recurring movements and sounds, called tics.)
‘It’s the bright sunlight,’ a man suggested. That idea met with many nods of approval, but we prodded further. One woman thought it was the motion of the car that most bothered her. We talked about other possibilities - an irritating texture of the upholstery, not wanting to travel to certain locations, exhaust fumes coming in, and so on. I urged them not to jump to quick conclusions, but to think all options through.
Then, one mother said: ‘My son’s tics remain unchanged when he rides in his dad’s car, but when he’s in my car he’s off the wall. As soon as he gets in - before we even start moving - his tics are much, much worse.’ She was desperate for an answer.
We wondered: Could it be that he doesn’t like the places his mom goes? Was there a family issue? That wasn’t it. Then we started talking about differences between the two cars and a ‘light bulb’ went on: ‘My van is brand new,’ she exclaimed, ‘and it still has that new car smell! My husband’s car is older.’
If you think she’s off base, that a new car couldn’t make tics worse, think again. The smell of a new car comes from chemicals, some of which are toxic.
A report this year by the Michigan-based Ecology Center, Toxic at Any Speed, explains that PBDEs (fire retardants) and phthalates (used to soften certain plastics) are at dangerous levels in some new cars. ‘These groups of chemicals have been linked to birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, premature births and early puberty in laboratory animals, among other serious health problems,’ the report states.