Thousands of cars are developing foul smells within a couple of years of leaving the showroom. The culprits are fungi and bacteria growing in their air-conditioning systems. The fungi can also give motorists and their passengers runny noses, itchy eyes and other allergic reactions.
Robert Simmons and his colleagues at Georgia State University in Atlanta have recorded at least 15 different types of fungi growing in the foam and glue that surround the heat exchangers in car air-conditioning systems. Bacteria also form a biofilm on the surface of heat exchanger coils, the researchers have found. And yet more fungi-28 species in all-grow on the surface of this film.
Both bacteria and fungi create the bad smells. "Some of the odours are like smelly socks," says Simmons. "Others are musty smells like those you would find in a disused basement." Many are caused by sulphur-containing compounds such as dimethyl sulphide, trisulphide and benzothiazole.
New Scientist Issue 30th May 1998, page 7
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