New Study Reveals Toxic Chemicals in Most Children’s Car Seats

Good news: Three Companies Now Produce Car Seats Without Toxic Flame Retardants

DECEMBER 3, 2018— Today, Ecology Center’s Healthy Stuff program released test results and product ratings in their new 2018 report, Hidden Hazards:Flame Retardants and PFAS in Children’s Car Seats. Ecology Center has been tracking changes in toxic chemical additives of popular car seat brands since 2006. Ecology Center collaborated with researchers from Indiana University and the University of Notre Dame to incorporate detailed analytical results into the Healthy Stuff report as well as for publication, released today, in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters. The peer-reviewed letter is the first-ever report in scientific literature of the presence of a new flame retardant chemical in child car seats in North America. 

View car seat test results and rankings

Testing also confirmed that three companies now offer a car seat that does not contain added toxic flame retardant chemicals, which include: UPPAbaby MESA - Jordan and Henry models (infant), Clek Fllo - Mammoth (convertible), and Nuna Pipa Lite - Fog (infant). Public health groups from across the country are united in a national effort to update the government’s decades-old flammability standards, by publicly calling for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to update their flammability standards in this Change.org petition, allowing more parents the ability to purchase toxic-free car seats.

Important note: Child car seats are mandatory safety devices that save lives. Regardless of any chemical concerns, parents should always properly install and use a children’s car seat.

Compared to Ecology Center’s 2016 report, this year’s study shows there are fewer car seats with brominated flame retardants than in previous years. However, there is an increase in the use of phosphorus-based flame retardants, including the newly reported cyclic phosphonate ester. “The switch from brominated to phosphorus-based flame retardants isn’t necessarily a move to safer chemistry,” explains Gillian Miller, Senior Scientist at Ecology Center. “Several commonly-used phosphorus-based flame retardants show significant endocrine and developmental toxicity and also are persistent in our environment.” 

Toxic flame retardant chemicals used in children’s car seats can harm major systems in the body, including the hormone, developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune systems. These chemicals pose the greatest risk to babies while their organs are still developing (prenatal and postnatal). Exposures to toxic flame retardants have been associated with an array of negative health effects including reduced IQ, developmental delays, autism, hormone disruption, reproductive harm, obesity and cancer. 

The Healthy Stuff study tested 18 children’s car seats including infant and convertible models. 80% (15) of the seats contained hazardous flame retardant chemical additives and 50% (9) likely contained hazardous PFAS (per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances) chemicals on the fabric. All seats tested were purchased in 2018 and manufactured in 2017 or later. Components in each seat were analyzed using multiple methods: chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry at Indiana University, tests for total fluorine content at the University of Notre Dame, and X-Ray Fluorescence and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy at the Ecology CenterEach seat was cut apart in order to test components individually. 

New this year, Ecology Center’s testing included a screening for fluorinated chemicals and found them in 50% (9 out of 18) of the car seats tested. The chemicals found are most likely PFASs (per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances) which are added by choice by manufacturers for their stain-resistant properties. “The entire class of PFAS chemicals are very persistent in the environment. Studies have shown them to be hazardous chemicals that should not be used in children’s products,” says Graham Peaslee, Researcher and Professor of Experimental Nuclear Physics at the University of Notre Dame. “There are safer alternatives available. Not only are children in close contact with these seat fabrics when they are young, but also when these seat covers are discarded. 100% of these PFASs are going to be released into our environment and could end up in drinking water later.”

Exposure to PFAS chemicals is associated with an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes, liver disorders, high cholesterol, and cancer as well as other adverse health effects. High amounts of PFASs have been found in drinking water supplies in towns and cities across the country, causing closures of wells and municipal water supplies. 

New this year, testing confirmed that three companies now offer a car seat that does not contain added flame retardant chemicals, which include: UPPAbaby MESA - Jordan and Henry models (infant), Clek Fllo - Mammoth (convertible), and Nuna Pipa Lite - Fog (infant). “UPPAbaby developed the first naturally fire retardant car seat because our passionate consumer base wanted a natural alternative. So, I challenged our R&D team to come up with something that had never been done before,” says Bob Monahan, CEO of UPPAbaby. “I believe that through innovation, businesses can be a driver to provide parents with options and healthier safer products.” 

“We applaud the market advances of these three companies,” says Melissa Cooper Sargent of Ecology Center. “But not all families can afford the expensive price tag on flame retardant-free seats.” 

Ecology Center’s study concludes the use of hazardous chemicals in most car seat brands is driven by outdated federal flammability regulations, a major roadblock in the effort towards getting both toxic-free and affordable car seats in the hands of parents. “Companies should be allowed to test their products using an appropriate alternative standard that accounts for realistic fire safety without unnecessary exposures to chemical hazards,” says Gillian Miller, Senior Scientist at Ecology Center. Children’s car seats are included in the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s flame standard for vehicles, FMVSS 302, originally created in the 1970s. The government has never fully evaluated the effectiveness of the flammability standard for children’s car seats. Many experts suggest FMVSS 302 is not relevant to real-world fire scenarios in cars. 

Ecology Center and public health groups from across the country are united in an effort to update the government’s decades-old flammability standards, by publicly calling for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to update their flammability standards

in this Change.org petition, so more parents can have toxic-free car seats and less children are exposed to these unnecessary toxic hazards. 

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Ecology Center is a non-profit environmental advocacy organization established in 1970 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Ecology Center develops innovative solutions for healthy people and a healthy planet in four primary areas: Environmental Health, Sustainable Food, Energy & Climate Change, and Zero Waste. This work is accomplished through educating consumers to help keep their families healthy and safe, pushing corporations to use clean energy, make safe products, and provide healthy food, providing people with innovative services that promote healthy people and a healthy planet and working with policymakers to establish laws that protect communities and the environment. For more information visit www.ecocenter.org and follow @Ecology_Center

Published on December 3, 2018

IMPORTANT NOTE: HealthyStuff.org ratings do not provide a measure of health risk or chemical exposure associated with any individual product, or any individual element or related chemical.