General Motors Corp. is recalling 472,600 1982-model Chevrolets, Pontiacs and GMC vehicles because they put excess gasoline fumes into the air.

The models being recalled are the 1982 Chevrolet Impala, Caprice Classic, Camaro, Malibu Classic, Monte Carlo and El Camino, the 1982 Pontiac Firebird and the GMC Caballero light truck. The vehicles are equipped with 3.8-, 4.4-, 5- and 5.7-liter engines, General Motors said.

The Environmental Protection Agency said the vehicles have a faulty thermal-vacuum switch, part of the emissions-control equipment required by federal regulations, which fails to open. The fumes are eventually released into the air, where they form terrestrial ozone, a chemical that "irritates the eyes, mucous membranes and the respiratory system," the EPA said.

"It impairs the normal functioning of the lungs and reduces the ability to perform physical exercise," the agency said.

Detroit-based GM said it began mailing letters to owners of the vehicles on Friday. The automaker said it would install "improved" switches, a procedure it said would take less than an hour. The company said the malfunctioning switch does not affect vehicle operation.

Donald Zinger, a special assistant to the director of the EPA, said the problem was discovered only recently because "most times the defects don't occur until the cars are a couple of years old."