Poisonous chemicals could be used in car dashboards

A new study by the World Health Organisation has revealed that a chemical used to soften plastics in many everyday items - including car trim - could cause breast cancer, asthma, infertility and birth defects.

The chemicals known as phthalates can be found in things like cosmetics, children's toys and interior plastics of cars – including steering wheels and dashboards.

Some of which can be inhaled in dust, others make their way into our bodies from food or simply licking our fingers.

In the report, the World Health Organisation suggested a ban might be needed to protect future generations.

It says it is "reasonable to suspect" chemical substances called phthalates of harming female fertility and linked them with rising rates of childhood illnesses including leukaemia.

The man-made compounds are thought to interfere with the natural hormones that are key to our growth, development and overall health.

The WHO said there was "very strong evidence" in animals they can interfere with thyroid hormones – something that can cause brain damage, stunted intelligence, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism.

According to the Daily Mail, the WHO stops short of saying the chemicals actually caused the illnesses but did say that in some cases, the evidence was very strong.

Quick to quash any panic, a spokesperson for the Society of Motoring Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said: "Vehicle manufacturers spend millions of pounds every year developing, testing and enhancing vehicle safety technology.

"Motorists should have confidence that this includes ensuring that new cars meet the rigorous safety criteria and global standards, before they are allowed to be put on the market."