This article was originally written by Aida Garcia-Toledo, and appeared on her blog, NonToxic Munchkin.
Buying a car seat is one of the first things all parents have to do, and the market is filled with different options. It can be confusing, and time consuming, to figure out which car seat works best for your family, as you compare safety, price and practicality. However, when you add the fact that new parents today should also be taking into consideration the level of toxic chemicals found in their children’s car seats, well, the decision making process can become ridiculously time consuming and unclear.
As parents, many of us are clearly frustrated that a product that so obviously needs to be used every single day and that keeps our children safe inside a car is also, at the same time, exposing them to some pretty bad toxic chemicals. However, since everyone needs a car seat knowledge is key to making the best decision for your family.
The Bad News
Due to US federal fire test standards for vehicle accessories, every single car seat on the market right now in the US contains at least one chemical flame retardant. Unless you have access to a state of the art lab, there is no reliable way of telling which chemicals are found in which car seats, or how many chemicals are present. Even companies who claim to be using “safe flame retardants,” have been found to actually be using some of the worse, potentially toxic, chemicals in their car seats. Adding to the misinformation, company websites and even customer service representatives often give out incorrect information to concerned consumers.
What is a concerned parent to do?
We all have to use car seats. Period. They save lives. So, the question parents are left with is: how do you choose the least toxic option? Education is key!
Remind me-why is this important? How exactly can flame retardants chemicals in the car seat affect my child?
Flame retardant chemicals do not stick/ bind very well to the product they are used on…. thus, they are released over time. Mostly into dust particles and air.
Heat and UV-ray exposure in cars can accelerate the release of these chemicals from products into the vehicle environment
While infants, toddlers and children are sitting in their car seats everyday, they are exposed to these chemicals through inhalation, ingestion and dermal (skin) absorption.
The longer your child sits in his/ her car seat the more exposed they are to these chemicals. In fact, tests have shown the very same car seats found in car seats inside the bodies of little kids.
So, how bad are these flame retardants? Is there such a thing as a safer fire retardant?
The short answer: flame retardants are pretty bad (can be carcinogenic, some have been associated with thyroid problems, learning and memory impairment, decreased fertility, and behavioral changes) and we don’t really know if there is such a thing as a safe one. Here is a little history on flame retardants (courtesy of Michigan’s the Ecology Center):
In the 1970’s, a chemical known as chlorinated tris, or TDCPP, was used to treat children’s pajamas to make the fabric slower to catch fire. Chlorinated tris was a replacement for a chemical that was found to be carcinogenic. Years later, Chlorinated tris was revealed to be a carcinogen too (and was removed from pajamas.)
Chlorinated tris= proven to be carcinogenic = should never again be used in children’s products right?
Well, not exactly.
Fast forward to 2004… In 2004 (after another flame retardant was phased out due to health concerns) Chlorinated tris once again became the go-to chemical for a number of products: in furniture, car interiors, tents, and children’s products, such as nap mats and crib pads (but not pajamas). Where else? Yes, you guessed it, this proven carcinogenic chemical was also found in two 2014 model car seats in a study published last year.
This is a good example of how replacement chemicals are sometimes no safer than the banned chemicals they are replacing. Sometimes (as is the case with chlorinated tris) “proven” bad chemicals make a comeback. Other times, new chemicals with little to no safety studies are used. This is why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) 44-year old Federal Motor Vehicle Flammability Standard, FMVSS No. 302, needed to be updated as fire retardants have no use whatsoever in car seats— but that is a whole other issue (if you are interested in doing your part to try to change the law on flame retardants in car seats you might want to consider signing this Change.org petition.
As of right now, all foam in every single car seat must have fire retardants. There are 3 classes of flame retardant:
- Brominated, (also called halogenated) are considered quite toxic and extremely persistence in the environment.
- Chlorinated (also called halogenated) are considered quite toxic and extremely persistence in the environment.
- Phosphate-based. These are the replacement chemicals du jour being used to replace the toxic halogenated flame retardants. According to limited research studies, some of these replacements may be safer for human health… but no one really knows and no one has tested their safety on long term exposure in infants nor children (nor adults for that matter) Let’s cross our fingers, because while laws continue to require flame retardants in car seats these seem to be our safest bet.
But, if these chemicals can save my child in a car fire- then isn’t that more important?
If the answer were yes, this debate would be quite different. The reality is that car fires move so fast that these fire retardants are no longer considered to be of any help retarding flames in real life scenarios.
So The REAL Question Remain – How Do You Choose the Safest Car Seat?
Two organizations, Michigan’s The Ecology Center, and Duke University’s Superfund Research Center have taken it up on themselves to test the foam in car seats to find out if they have flame retardants and which ones. Duke University, who does not publish the brands tested, has found that 80% of car seats tested have worrisome flame retardant chemicals. MIchigan’s The Ecology Center, 2014/2015 Study looked at a smaller sampling: fifteen (15) of the best selling 2014-model car seats were included and tested for various different flame retardants that have been linked to thyroid problems, learning and memory impairment, decreased fertility, behavioral changes and cancer. They found: that “no car seats were free of chemical hazards.”
Nearly ¾ of the seats tested contained hazardous halogenated flame retardants and over half contained non-halogenated organophosphate flame retardants. Four seats contained one or both of the “chlorinated tris” chemicals we mentioned earlier with the pajamas, TDCPP (a known carcinogen) and TCPP. Graco was the poorest performing company. Some models of Britax and Clek show the safest flame retardant usage (phosphate based) For more details on the study and which specific car seat models I recommend as the ‘least toxic’ stemming from these published reports read the post at NonToxic Munchkin.
Regardless of what car seat you purchase – Here Are Some GENERAL TIPS
- 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 (especially common for infants)
- Limit direct sunlight on the car seat and high temperatures in your car. Window coverings in a car also substantially lower the interior temperature on a warm day.
- Vacuum the car interior and the nooks and crannies of car seats. Chemicals that migrate out, including flame retardants, can cling to dust particles. Open the car windows when possible.
- Wash car seat covers as doing so can remove contaminated dust and other particles.
- Wash your hands (and your child’s hands) frequently with plain soap (not with antibacterial soaps or gels since these can expose them to endocrine disrupting chemicals). Studies by Duke University have found that people are more likely to have higher exposure and body burdens if they wash their hands less frequently. Washing hands is always a good idea!
To purchase the two car seats found in the Michigan Ecology Center’s Study that contain the lowest and undetectable levels of flame retardants, you can find the Clek Foonf 2016 Convertible CarSeat and Britax Parkway Booster in the Primal Kidz Mag Shop section. Read about our Affiliate Disclosure here.
About the Author:
Aida Garcia-Toledo is the Founder of NonToxic Munchkin, Non Toxic Living Blog and Consulting. After years as an investigative journalist and documentary producer, she began to read and research the effects of long term exposure to environmental toxins on our health. Her mother’s fight with breast cancer and becoming a mother herself left her fully committed to making sure that her children, and children everywhere, were protected from constant exposure to toxic chemicals so they can live a long healthy life. And so, Non-Toxic Munchkin was born as an outlet to educate parents and help them transition to a non-toxic healthier life, without any added stress. Non-Toxic Munchkin’s philosophy is that the healthiest homes belong to families that find a balance between making healthy educated choices and living a modern day life.“ It is not a diet. It is not a detox. It is a new way of life”. Let Non-Toxic Munchkin help you! Visit our website, follow us on Instagram and Facebook for constant tips and news, and contact us for a personalized in home consultation if you live in Southern California.
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