My Rental Made Me Sick!

I think, in fact, my rental car did make me sick! And I am going to tell you why I know this to be true in order to help you avoid the same thing happening to you.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to a dear friend’s daughter’s wedding in Utah. I was so excited to witness what was sure to be a wonderful celebration uniting not only two people in love, but also the marriage of two incredible cultures steeped in rich tradition and two large, loving, supportive families. Kelsie and Laki (names are changed to protect their identities) come from two very different cultures. She from a large family very active in their Church of Latter-Day Saints community and he, from the Polynesian, Samoan culture. This was a wedding not to be missed held at a beautiful ranch in the mountains of Utah. I couldn’t wait!

I had to travel from my midwestern hometown to Salt Lake City, UT to attend the wedding. My travel day was gratefully uneventful – gotta appreciate that in these days of flight delays, ground stops, staffing shortages and other challenges to airline travel. I was feeling grateful that all went smoothly, arriving shortly before noon local time. I must be livin’ right, I thought!

Upon arrival in Salt Lake City, Utah I collected my rental car without incident, highlighting the few scratches I saw on the driver’s side door to the efficient rental car representative helping me load my luggage. He noted the scratches, and I was on my way.

When I got in the car, I noticed it had a bit of an odor, a fragrance or sorts, reminding me of cheap men’s cologne that lingers in the nostrils for hours. It brought me right back to 1993, Spring Break at Carlos and Charlies where co-eds famously drank too much tequila, danced on a too crowded dance floor and doused themselves with too much cheap cologne! I had assumed that the odor may have been left over from whomever cleaned the vehicle and the smell would dissipate once I started the car, opened windows and got the air moving.

I was dead wrong about that. The smell never went away. Even getting stronger when I turned up the fan as I desperately tried to air out the car with the fan on high and windows open to provide a path of escape for this awful air. I noticed I had developed a slight headache behind my right eye, like someone was stabbing me with a sharp knife! I have been in the Indoor Air Quality industry for the last two decades, so I know a thing or two about the consequences of breathing contaminated indoor air quality and it was starting to happen to me. Headache, dizziness, nausea, etc. I became acutely aware that I was breathing the 100s of chemicals found in home/car “fragrances” that are designed to mask unpleasant odors.

Our company has been providing ventilation solutions to homeowners for over 20 years now. I understand the importance of contaminant removal by creating air exchanges near or at the source of contamination. I know how to do this…why was it not working?!?!? I stopped more than three times on my 2 hour drive to see if I could locate the source of the odor. I knew if I could find what was creating this noxious smell, I could remedy the situation. No such luck. My headache was getting more intense with every passing moment.

Upon arrival at my destination, I was beyond thrilled to get out of that car and breathe in the fresh mountain air and see all my friends gathered in that way that only the excitement of a wedding creates.  Much to my distress, the headache, dizziness and nausea lingered into dinner. I realized at one point that nausea was growing in intensity. Unable to eat as I felt so ill, I excused myself from the table and spent the next hour and half in the restroom getting violently ill.  WHAT THE?!?!?!

I’ve spent the last 20 years educating our team and others on the detrimental health consequences of poor indoor air quality as contaminated indoor air has been named one of the top 3 health concerns by the US Environmental Protection Agency. I found it quite ironic that there I was bent over a restroom toilet feeling all the nasty effects of breathing that polluted indoor air. I had literally been trapped in that rental car forced to breathe dirty, polluted indoor air. Not unlike our many customers who are at their wits end with all the trapped chemicals and pollutants recirculating through their indoor environments.

I had always known this was what the experts warned against, I preached to anyone who would listen that breathing dirty, polluted indoor air was bad for our health, but I had never experienced it like this for myself. I will never pull out of a rental car lot again with a car that has an odor or “freshener” scent and I encourage you not to as well!

I went to bed that night with a renewed enthusiasm to do all I can to help educate and inform as many people as possible about the detrimental health consequences of breathing contaminated air, especially when it comes to so called “air fresheners”. I woke up the next morning feeling much better and did my best to stay out of that car for the next few days. What I found so interesting as I sat at the wedding surrounded by the aroma of roses, frangipani, and other flowers present was that these smells cannot be duplicated or substituted by chemicals, nothing smells as wonderful as the actual flower…why bother with the fake stuff full of toxins when you know it can (and will) make you sick!

– Erika Lacroix, Indoor Air Quality Advocate

How I know it was the car that made me sick:

“Volatile organic compounds and other chemicals contribute to poor indoor quality that causes or contributes to health concerns such as asthma, headaches, dry eyes, nasal congestion, nausea and fatigue, it’s extremely important to understand the role of proper ventilation or air exchanges.” – US EPA

“The majority of home and car air fresheners are created with Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). These are synthetic chemicals that can stay suspended in air. The EPA lists a number of possible adverse effects of exposure to VOCs including headaches, loss of coordination, nausea, liver, kidney, and central nervous system damage, cancer, and more.”  – National Motorists Assoc.

“Indoor air is on average two to five times more polluted than the air outdoors and can be up to 100 times more.” – US EPA

Read more here: Hazards of Car Air Fresheners – How to Stay Safe – National Motorists Association

Volatile chemical emissions from car air fresheners; Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health. Aug 4, 2020

”Air fresheners, used in a variety of indoor environments, emit a range of volatile chemicals, including some classified as hazardous. However, little is known about the emissions from air fresheners designed for use in cars. This study investigates the volatile organic compounds emitted from car air fresheners, identifies potentially hazardous compounds, compares emissions between so-called natural and regular versions, and assesses whether ingredients are disclosed. Using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, 12 car air fresheners were analyzed for their volatile emissions. Air freshener types included car vent clips, wraps, hanging ornaments, cans, and spray. Results reveal that the air fresheners collectively emitted 546 VOCs with 30 VOCs classified as potentially hazardous. All air freshener types emitted one or more potentially hazardous compounds. Comparing regular air fresheners with so-called natural or green air fresheners, no significant difference was found in the emissions of hazardous compounds. Notably, all products emitted at least one VOC classified as potentially hazardous. Among all of the 546 compounds emitted, fewer than 2% of all VOCs, and none of the potentially hazardous VOCs, were disclosed on any product label or safety data sheet. This study reveals that car air fresheners can be a source of exposure to numerous volatile compounds, including potentially hazardous VOCs, most of which are undisclosed. Of particular concern for human exposure is the small and enclosed breathing space within vehicles, as well as involuntary exposure in commercial vehicles such as taxi cabs and rideshares.”

  • Anne Steinemann,
  • Neda Nematollahi,
  • Justine Lew Weinberg,
  • Jennifer Flattery,
  • Nigel Goodman &
  • Spas D. Kolev