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How Toxic Is Your Child’s Car Seat?

Spring 2007
Ted Sylvester


How Toxic Is Your Child’s Car Seat?

First-Ever Consumer Guide Now Available

By Ted Sylvester


Just two months after launching the first-ever “Consumer Guide to Toxic Chemicals in Vehicles,” which exposes “new car smell” as a toxic brew of chemicals, Ecology Center researchers now say that child car seats have the same problem as car interiors: their components are made with chemical additives that can make you sick! Potentially dangerous substances such as are PVC, lead, brominated flame retardants, and heavy metal allergens found in dashboards, steering wheels and armrests are also used to make child car-seat cushions, belt clips and sunshades.

Researchers point to the fact that children, especially developing infants, are far more vulnerable than adults to the serious health risks posed by chemical exposure.

child in car seatThe Ecology Center tested over 60 brand new infant, convertible and booster car seats and found that while some are virtually free of the most dangerous chemicals, others are saturated. The findings and complete test results, including Best & Worst Picks in three child car seat categories, are posted on the Ecology Center’s new project website: Consumers looking to buy a new car seat or wondering if their child’s current car seat is safe can visit this site and search by model, or comparison shop between different models.

“It is absolutely essential that parents put their children in car seats while driving,” said Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center’s Clean Car Campaign Director. “However, some car seats are safer than others when it comes to chemical composition. will make it easier for parents to choose the least toxic car seat for their child.”

Chemicals tested for include: bromine (associated with brominated flame retardants); chlorine (indicating the presence of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC and plasticizers); lead; and heavy metal allergens. Such chemicals have been linked to major health problems such as liver, thyroid and developmental problems in children. Babies, studies show, are the most vulnerable population in terms of exposure to chemical-laden dust and inhaling toxic fumes since their systems are still developing.

Infant and child car seats were sampled with a portable, hand-held XRF analyzer, which identifies the elemental composition of any material in less than 60 seconds. Many parts of each seat were tested, including the cushion, seat base, belt clips, sunshade, and rigid foam backing. The test results were analyzed and an overall chemical rating was assigned to each child car seat.


Results show that the levels of dangerous chemicals contained in child car seats vary greatly between models. Ecology Center researchers hope that will make it easier for parents to select a model that contains the fewest harmful chemical additives.

The study of child car seats, the guide to car interiors, and the recent launch of the website are part of an ongoing effort by the Ecology Center’s Clean Car Campaign to get consumers to pay more attention to the chemicals in their cars, and in turn, force automakers to provide products made with safer alternatives. A full list of action steps is available at

child car seat guide

The chart above lists the car seat ratings for car seats retailed by Target and Babies “R” Us in December 2006. The car seats are listed by car seat type (infant, convertible or booster) and in order of overall rating, lowest concern to highest concern. The overall car seat rating, as well as ratings for bromine, chlorine, lead and other chemicals, are provided. Detailed information on the concentrations of elements found in particular components is available at

child seat best-worst

Chemicals of Concern

The Ecology Center’s child car seat and car interior studies analyzed chemicals contained in materials that pose significant environmental and health concerns. The chemicals include brominated flame retardants (BFRs), PVC (and the associated phthalates), lead, mercury, antimony, chromium, copper, cobalt, tin, nickel and arsenic.

BFRs have been known to cause neuro-developmental toxicity, hormone disruption, learning and memory impairment, and reproductive problems. Lead has been linked to brain and kidney damage, nerve disorders and developmental problems. And phthalates that are contained in vinyl are associated with hormone and reproductive disorders, as well as cancer.

Many of these chemicals have already been subject to regulatory restrictions around the world. Lead, mercury, and chromium have been restricted in vehicles by the European Union’s End of Life Vehicle Directive. BFRs have been regulated by the EU’s Restriction on the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electronics and Electronic Equipment.

Choosing a Healthy Car

XRF dashboardIf you’re about to buy, lease, or rent a car and want to choose the least toxic vehicle, visit the Ecology Center’s new project website: With an interactive database of over 200 models of cars and trucks, consumers can search by model or class. Each product is given a level of concern of high, low or medium, and is also assigned a rating between 0 and 5 in order for consumers to compare vehicles.

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