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Toyota Camry Hybrid, Car Safety, Sedan
#14 of 63 Health Risk with Toyota Hybrid
Apr 29, 2008 (7:03 am)
I just bought a 2009 TCH and love the mileage benefits over my traded-in Infiniti, but saw an unnerving article in this Sunday's NY Times about the health risks of Hybrid cars; Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive in particular. Here is the very well written and awakening NYT article from 4/28/2008.
Fear, but Few Facts, on Hybrid Risk
ALMOST without exception, scientists and policy makers agree that hybrid vehicles are good for the planet. To a small but insistent group of skeptics, however, there is another, more immediate question: Are hybrids healthy for drivers?
Mary DiBiase Blaich for The New York Times
Driving a hybrid made Neysa Linzer drowsy.
There is a legitimate scientific reason for raising the issue. The flow of electrical current to the motor that moves a hybrid vehicle at low speeds (and assists the gasoline engine on the highway) produces magnetic fields, which some studies have associated with serious health matters, including a possible risk of leukemia among children.
With the batteries and power cables in hybrids often placed close to the driver and passengers, some exposure to electromagnetic fields is unavoidable. Moreover, the exposure will be prolonged — unlike, say, using a hair dryer or electric shaver — for drivers who spend hours each day at the wheel.
Some hybrid owners have actually tested their cars for electromagnetic fields using hand-held meters, and a few say they are alarmed by the results.
Their concern is not without merit; agencies including the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute acknowledge the potential hazards of long-term exposure to a strong electromagnetic field, or E.M.F., and have done studies on the association of cancer risks with living near high-voltage utility lines.
While Americans live with E.M.F.’s all around — produced by everything from cellphones to electric blankets — there is no broad agreement over what level of exposure constitutes a health hazard, and there is no federal standard that sets allowable exposure levels. Government safety tests do not measure the strength of the fields in vehicles — though Honda and Toyota, the dominant hybrid makers, say their internal checks assure that their cars pose no added risk to occupants.
Researchers with expertise in hybrid-car issues say that while there may not be cause for alarm, neither should the potential health effects be ignored.
end of article
* * *
While I'm not trading my car in just yet, it does give me more than a slight cause for concern with putting the little ones in the back seat for a two hour trip. Any additional information in this issue -- either way it falls -- would be appreciated.
“It would be a mistake to jump to conclusions about hybrid E.M.F. dangers, as well as a mistake to outright dismiss the concern,” said Jim Kliesch, a senior engineer for the clean vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Additional research would improve our understanding of the issue.”
Charges that automobiles expose occupants to strong electromagnetic fields were made even before hybrids became popular. In 2002, a Swedish magazine claimed its tests found that three gasoline-powered Volvo models produced high E.M.F. levels. Volvo countered that the magazine had compared the measurements with stringent standards advanced by a Swedish labor organization, not the more widely accepted criteria established by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, a group of independent scientific experts based near Munich.
Much of the discussion over high E.M.F. levels has sprung from hybrid drivers making their own readings. Field-strength detectors are widely available; a common model, the TriField meter, costs about $145 online. But experts and automakers contend that it is not simple for a hybrid owner to make reliable, meaningful E.M.F. measurements.
The concern over high E.M.F. levels in hybrids has come not just from worrisome instrument readings, but also from drivers who say that their hybrids make them ill.
Neysa Linzer, 58, of Bulls Head in Staten Island, bought a new Honda Civic Hybrid in 2007 for the 200 miles a week she drove to visit grocery stores in her merchandising job for a supermarket chain. She said that the car reduced her gasoline use, but there were problems — her blood pressure rose and she fell asleep at the wheel three times, narrowly averting accidents.
“I never had a sleepiness problem before,” Ms. Linzer said, adding that it was her own conclusion, not a doctor’s, that the car was causing the symptoms.
Ms. Linzer asked Honda to provide her with shielding material for protection from the low-frequency fields, but the company declined her request last August, saying that its hybrid cars are “thoroughly evaluated” for E.M.F.’s before going into production. Ms. Linzer’s response was to have the car tested by a person she called her wellness consultant, using a TriField meter.
The TriField meter is made by AlphaLab in Salt Lake City. The company’s president, Bill Lee, defends its use for automotive testing even though the meter is set up to test alternating current fields, whereas the power moving to and from a hybrid vehicle’s battery is direct current. “Generally, an A.C. meter is accurate in detecting large electromagnetic fields or microwaves,” he said.
Testing with a TriField meter led Brian Collins of Encinitas, Calif., to sell his 2001 Honda Insight just six months after he bought it — at a loss of $7,000. He said the driver was receiving “dangerously high” E.M.F. levels of up to 135 milligauss at the hip and up to 100 milligauss at the upper torso. These figures contrasted sharply with results from his Volkswagen van, which measured one to two milligauss.
Mr. Collins said he tried to interest Honda in the problem in 2001, but was assured that his car was safe. He purchased shielding made of a nickel-iron alloy, but because of high installation costs decided to sell the car instead.
A spokesman for Honda, Chris Martin, points to the lack of a federally mandated standard for E.M.F.’s in cars. Despite this, he said, Honda takes the matter seriously. “All our tests had results that were well below the commission’s standard,” Mr. Martin said, referring to the European guidelines. And he cautions about the use of hand-held test equipment. “People have a valid concern, but they’re measuring radiation using the wrong devices,” he said.
Kent Shadwick, controller of purchasing services for the York Catholic District School Board in York, Ontario, evaluated the Toyota Prius for fleet use. Mr. Shadwick said it was tested at various speeds, and under hard braking and rapid acceleration, using a professional-quality gauss meter.
“The results that we saw were quite concerning,” he said. “We saw high levels in the vehicle for both the driver and left rear passenger, which has prompted us to explore shielding options
#15 of 63 Re: Health Risk with Toyota Hybrid [nkaizer]
Apr 29, 2008 (8:01 am)
Molehill, meet Mountain.....(sigh)
The critical piece of info in that article is this one:
“All our tests had results that were well below the commission’s standard,” Mr. Martin said, referring to the European guidelines. And he cautions about the use of hand-held test equipment. “People have a valid concern, but they’re measuring radiation using the wrong devices,” he said."
The Prius tested at 1/300ths the Euro limit.
There are more than a million hybrid vehicle drivers in the world. This one lady (or 5 or 10) saying the "hybrid made her sleepy" is merely anecdotal, not proof of anything.
#16 of 63 Re: Health Risk with Toyota Hybrid [larsb]
Apr 29, 2008 (8:38 am)
I agree it's certainly nothing conclusive, but it's nevertheless tough getting a kick in the ass when you try and do something good.
#17 of 63 Re: Health Risk with Toyota Hybrid [nkaizer]
Apr 29, 2008 (8:54 am)
Hey, I didn't "kick" anyone anywhere. I just wrote my opinion on accuracy of the piece.
Not an attack on the messenger AT ALL, ANY SHAPE OR FORM.
#18 of 63 Re: Health Risk with Toyota Hybrid [larsb]
Apr 29, 2008 (9:13 am)
You misunderstood me. I did not take your sound comments to be a kick in the ass. I meant that it was tough to get unsettling news about the dangers of driving a hybrid after biting the bullet and actually getting one.
#19 of 63 Re: Health Risk with Toyota Hybrid [nkaizer]
Apr 29, 2008 (10:22 am)
My opinion, for what it's worth, is that there are too many articles these days designed more to frighten than inform. This article hits the bullseye in that regard.
Of the many studies on EMFs none have established a correlation between workers, in power plants, etc., who are routinely exposed to higher magnetic fields and disease. That is, no evidence of increased cancer, shorter lifespan, etc.
As far there not being "broad agreement" on the issue, don't hold your breath. One isn't likely anytime soon. There are still (small) numbers of people who oppose pasteurizing milk. And don't even bring up the subject of microwave ovens!
#20 of 63 Re: Health Risk with Toyota Hybrid [nkaizer]
Apr 30, 2008 (5:48 am)
I hope you are kidding.
While there certainly are people who live in areas with almost no EMI (the Amish for example), most of us live in an apartment or house surrounded by AC wiring with a constant flow of current. We live in lightly shielded metal cages!
Most of our electronics puts out EMI - microwaves, computers, TVs, phones, etc. If you want to eliminate EMI, simply move into a house with no electricity, far away from power lines.
By the way, I heard that the fabric in the seats is toxic - If you feed a lab rat 100 pounds of the material in one day, it will explode. LOL
#21 of 63 Re: Health Risk with Toyota Hybrid [jcihak]
Apr 30, 2008 (6:53 am)
I'd rather not live in a cage surrounded by wires and EMF. Yes, I fly on planes and I use a microwave but I do not let my children stand in front of the microwave when using it. I don't know if EMF emissions from normal usage of hybrid cars are cancerous or not, but it doesn't hurt to have impartial independent studies, does it?
Who knows, maybe the reduced particulate emissions from a hybrid reduces the incidence of lung cancer so it's all a wash anyway!
#22 of 63 Re: Health Risk with Toyota Hybrid [nkaizer]
Apr 30, 2008 (8:08 am)
My rather sarcastic response was born from having studied probabilistic risk assessment in grad school. I find it incredible that people make decisions as important as personal safety based on emotions, unsubstantiated news stories, or improperly performed "studies". Potential risks must also be weighed against the benefits. Statistics can truly tell the average person anything they are willing to believe.
The key is to know the actual risk. For example, if 10 million people buy a hybrid and it causes cancer in one person, how does that compare to the reduced risk of the gas/oil savings (troops in Iraq, pollution, money spent on gas instead of health care, explosion when filling up at a gas station, etc)?
The risks of not buying a hybrid can be measured at least on an order of magnitude. The risks of EMI are speculative at best and are not being compared to the risks of not buying the hybrid.
Remember, the cost of gas goes far beyond what we pay at the pump.
#23 of 63 Re: Health Risk with Toyota Hybrid [nkaizer]
Apr 30, 2008 (9:25 am)
I agree with you about the value of having "impartial independent studies" on the subject. Too bad the article didn't cite any.
It artfully conflated that EMF emissions have been studied, without providing results, with anecdotal fears of people who'd self-tested their cars.
Maybe the fears will prove justified. But let's have a little evidence before fanning the flames.