Most Hazardous Car Seats of 2011

by Cassandra R. Elias

chicco infant seatEven before that sweet babe made it into your arms, you researched and bought the safest car seat. It fit your car, your budget and your child.

I thought I had checked out every angle. I even chose a seat I could bring in the house so she could finish her nap. And then I found out that my very "safe" car seat contains chemicals linked to all kinds of health problems. Why aren't there federal laws to make sure the stuff that comes into our homes is safe?

The latest research on toxic chemicals in children's car seats was released by the Ecology Center at HealthyStuff.org. While some seats were found to be virtually free of the most dangerous chemicals, over half contained at least one of the chemicals.

Over 150, 2011-model car seats were tested for:

  • Bromine (associated with brominated flame retardants)
  • Chlorine (indicating the presence of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC and plasticizers)
  • Lead
  • Other heavy metals

These substances are linked to allergies, birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, and cancer. Babies are the most vulnerable population in terms of exposure, since their bodies are still developing and they spend many hours in their car seats.

Jeff Gearhart, Ecology Center's Research Director stresses, "Always use a car seat regardless of the ratings at HealthyStuff.org. Car seats save lives and prevent injuries to children." He encourages people to use the data when moving from one car seat to another and chose one that reduces their child's exposure to these chemicals.

From Car Seat to Baby and Beyond

These chemical additives aren't securely attached to the cloth, plastic or foam. Instead they're caught in spaces like bugs in a screen. Sun, heat, and daily wear-and-tear can release these space invaders. Once out in the open, they cling to dust and tend to hang out in our living space. They don't break down or decompose, instead they accumulate.

Dust contaminated with harmful chemicals can be absorbed through your skin or when you breathe in. Your baby might chew on fingers or toys that have touched the dust. The particles can settle on your food. Some might collect on grass or float on water. Eventually these stable chemicals make their way from products up through the food chain. This is how the chemicals that used to be in your baby's car seat can show up in your grilled salmon. YIKES!

Car seats aren't the only source of hazardous chemicals in your home. There in a broad range of products you use every day -- your vehicle, stroller, home, nursing pillows, changing pads just to name a few. Each piece adds a little more of these invaders. The Ecology Center suggest a common sense approach. If you can, research and limit your exposure by carefully researching your purchases and going greener when possible.

Best 2011 Car Seats

HealthyStuff's 2011 Best Car Seats

Poorest Performing Car Seats

HealthyStuff's 2011 Worst Car Seats

Your Concerns

Our members shared several questions and concerns. Ecology Center's Research Director, Jeff Gearhart answered these for us.

Our car seat doesn't have the best rating. What can I do to lessen my baby's exposure? High temperatures, more sun and ultraviolet radiation turn your car's environment into a miniature chemical reactor. These housekeeping tips slow the release of chemicals:

  • Open your car windows a couple minutes before entering to lower chemical levels
  • Use solar shades
  • Vacuum with a hepa filter to remove dust

Some car seats contain more harmful chemicals. When your child's ready for another car seat, use the "best and worst" rankings to guide your purchase.

Will washing the pads lower the amount of chemicals my baby contacts? We don't know if washing the pads helps. It may but I haven't seen a study on that topic.

Why aren't these harmful chemicals restricted from baby and kid products? Our data (since 2007) shows these chemicals are showing up in our food supplies, wildlife and our bodies. Regulation lags behind what we know about exposures and potential harm. On the other side, the market is moving way ahead of our testing. We're seeing improved car seat ranking and less that have brominate flame retardants. Overall companies are moving towards healthier and better products.

I just spent $300.00 on a car seat. Now I discover is on the worst 10 list. Is there anything I can do? Unfortunately, you haven't any legal recourse because the public safety commission doesn't regulate these chemicals in car seats or more broadly, in children products.

How can I fight for change? The fact you care and are asking questions is changing the way companies manufacture products. You're looking for companies featuring green products, ones that are healthy and sustainable. People are moving toward those products. Don't underestimate your power in the market.

Overall, car seats are improving. However, some companies continue to use more potentially hazardous chemicals such as brominate flame retardants in their products. These include Baby Trend, Recaro and Britax. To address this problem, we'll need to change how we regulate these products. Our recommendations encourage manufacturers to:

1. Phase out the chemicals we know are hazardous.
2. Disclose all chemical flame retardant ingredients in products.
3. Work to determine and use the healthiest ingredients and processes for all products.

About the Study

"Hazardous Flame Retardants and Chemical Additives Found in Over Half of 2011 Child Car Seats Tested" by HealthyStuff.org. Car seat were tested for chemicals, which include lead, bromine, chlorine (PVC), cadmium, arsenic, mercury and other metals, that have been linked to acute allergies and to long-term health impacts such as birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, and cancer. The results are posted at HealthyStuff.org.

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