Car Seats, Chemicals, and Kids

The Latest HealthyStuff Report on Toxics in Children's Car Seats

As parents we spend hours researching options when considering the purchase of a new car seat, one of the most important and well-used tools in keeping our little loved ones safe. We consider price, functionality, color, size, softness, etc. Most of us, however, never dream that we have to consider if the product contains hazardous chemicals or not., a program of the Ecology Center, recently released their 2016 Car Seat Study: Traveling with Toxics: Flame Retardants and Other Chemicals in Children’s Car Seats. Flame retardants (FRs) were found in all 15 tested car seats, particularly in the fabrics.

“It is essential that parents put their kids in properly installed car seats, which provide vital crash protection, regardless of chemical hazard,” said the Ecology Center’s Research Director, Jeff Gearhart.  “However, there are some seats that are healthier than others in terms of toxic chemical content.”

HealthyStuff researchers found that most car seats still contain brominated FRs. Brominated chemicals tend to be persistent (they don’t break down), bioaccumulative (the build up in the food chain and in our bodies), and—here’s the kicker—often toxic. The good news is manufacturers have stopped using some of the worst flame retardants, such as Chlorinated Tris, a known human carcinogen. Instead, HealthyStuff researchers found more phosphorus-based, halogen-free flame retardants. Gillian Miller, Ecology Center Staff Scientist notes, “Eliminating halogens is important, so this is a promising trend. But some halogen-free FRs also pose health hazards, so these need to be thoroughly evaluated as well.”

The health risks associated with the detected chemicals range from endocrine disruption (alteration of the hormone system) to cognitive impairments and cancer. Flame retardants are not chemically bound to the fabric, foam, or plastic in which they are found. The chemicals release over time. Meanwhile, our children are strapped in—perhaps wearing as little as a diaper on hot days—where they may inhale, ingest, and/or absorb the off-gassing chemicals.

HealthyStuff’s researchers encourage policy-makers to reconsider the federal flammability standard. Despite 44 years of this U.S. regulation, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can provide no evidence suggesting that the rule protects children in vehicle fires. But it has resulted in car seat makers adding many thousands of pounds of chemical flame retardants to products that infants and children are in close contact with every day.

The report celebrates one more piece of good news: HealthyStuff testing confirmed UPPAbaby’s 2017 “Mesa Henry” model to be free of chemical flame retardants...and is still compliant with current flammability standards. The secret? Wool, which has natural fire retardant qualities. This car seat will be available in March 2017. HealthyStuff will be launching a car seat challenge in 2017, asking all manufacturers to follow UPPAbaby’s lead and introduce flame retardant free car seats.

What is a concerned parent to do? 

Advice for car seats and the car environment as a whole—because every surface and material in the car itself is likely coated or infused with flame retardant chemicals.

CHECK THE REPORT and its ratings to see where your favorite brands rank.

VACUUM the car interior and the nooks and crannies of car seat at least weekly. Also dust surfaces with a wet cloth. Chemicals that migrate out, including flame retardants, can cling to dust particles. Open the car windows when possible

LIMIT THE TIME your children spend in their car seats. Only use the car seat during travel, not as a place for your child to nap or sit outside of the car.

LIMIT DIRECT SUNLIGHT on the car seat and high temperatures in your car. Flame retardants and other hazardous chemicals may be released at a higher rate when your car becomes hot. When possible, park in the shade or in covered parking. Window coverings in a car also substantially lower the interior temperature on a warm day.

CONTACT CAR SEAT COMPANIES. Let them know you expect them to manufacture products without toxic chemicals, which threaten the health of our children and natural resources.

To read more about the study and to view the full methodology, results, and rankings, visit


Published on December 20, 2016