Carseat Cover

New Study Finds Market Progress and New Chemical Hazards in Kids Car Seats, Motivates Action

By Elizabeth Harlow, Staff Writer

Most children’s car seats, a legally required kids’ safety product, contain hazardous chemicals used as flame retardants and stain treatments. On December 3, the Ecology Center released its report Hidden Hazards: Flame Retardants & PFAS in Children's Car Seats. Our scientists have tracked chemicals in car seats since 2006, and our 2018 report delivers historic results. We found encouraging market progress, but we also saw lingering problems with known toxic chemicals in most products and discovered the presence of a new flame retardant chemical.

Our report concludes that manufacturers use these chemicals as an inexpensive way to meet outdated fire safety standards, and we’re calling for new standards to help keep all infants and small children safe in the car, no matter what car seat they’re in.

In a sign that consumer pressure for flame retardant-free seats is working, we found three fire retardant-free car seats for the first time - offered by UPPAbaby, Clek, and Nuna. We applaud these manufacturers’ efforts. But despite positive steps in some car seats, most children remain at risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals. 83% of car seats tested contain toxic chemicals used as flame retardants, and not all families can afford new flame retardant-free car seat options.

To accelerate market movement toward wide availability of chemically safe car seats, we and a coalition of manufacturers, child safety advocates, and public health groups call on the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration to update flammability standards so that children’s car seats are exempt or have an appropriate alternative standard that accounts for realistic fire safety without unnecessary exposures to chemical hazards.

Last updated in 1981, the flammability standard for car seats must change. Federal law requires car seats to pass flammability tests set in 1976, but no government agency or research group has produced evidence that added flame retardants protect children in vehicle fires. These flame retardants do, however, present real hazards to children’s health.

We also found PFAS chemicals, used for their stain-resistant properties, in half of car seats tested.  These chemicals build up in our blood, liver and kidneys and may contribute to diseases of those organs as well as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Children are especially vulnerable to these and other developmental effects.

Abundant data shows that car seats provide vital crash protection, and children should always ride in a properly installed seat, regardless of chemical hazards. But seat foams and fabrics don’t need to contain carcinogens, hormone disruptors, and developmental toxicants to protect children in the event of collision or fire--or to minimize the hassle of spilled milk!

We encourage you to sign the petition to detox childrens car seats and to circulate it widely using the hashtags #CarSeatDetox, #WeWantToxicFreeCarSeats, #ToxicFree, and #ToxicFreeCarSeats.