New Study Found Toxic Chemicals in Car Seats

Reprinted from a June 2015 Conservation Minnesota blog post

The Ecology Center and Healthy Stuff just released their latest research on toxic chemicals in children’s car seats. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of seats tested contained hazardous halogenated flame retardants (those with bromine or chlorine) and over half contained non-halogenated phosphate flame retardants, some of which may also be hazardous.  Five of the car seats tested contained chemicals recently banned by the Minnesota legislature.

Should parents be worried?

Yes, a little. The main reason parents use car seats, aside from the fact that they’re required by law, is to protect their little ones, in case of an accident. So conscientious parents look up safety ratings for car sets before they buy. Fewer parents are aware of the fact that these very same car seats could contain toxic chemicals linked to thyroid problems, learning and memory impairment, decreased fertility, behavioral changes and cancer.

There’s no doubt that babies and young children can spend hours every week in a car seat, so we need to make sure that the car environment is as safe as possible for kids. Manufacturers add chemical flame retardants to the fabric covering and/or foam in the car seat to meet fire safety requirements. Added flame retardant chemicals are not chemically bound to the car seat materials and are thus released over time. Infants, toddlers and children can be exposed through inhalation, ingestion and dermal (skin) absorption of these chemicals. Heat and UV-ray exposure in cars can accelerate the release of these chemicals from products into the vehicle interior.

What Healthy Stuff Found

Healthy Stuff tested fifteen 2014-model car seats for various hazardous chemicals, including bromine, chlorine, lead and other heavy metals. They then rated the car seats regarding the presence of toxic chemicals. Car seat rankings and chemical test results are available at  Top rated companies in the study, Britax and Clek, have employed green engineering solutions to reduce hazards in their products while still meeting all safety standards.  Britax has eliminated all halogenated flame retardants and none of the chemicals tested were found in the Clek products.

The Graco My Size 65 convertible model rated dead last of all the products tested. The rating is based on the hazard rating of the chemical used, the company’s policy on phasing out halogenated chemicals, and whether the chemicals were present in multiple materials and components of the product. The Graco rating was very upsetting to me personally because that was the very model I had bought for my grandson last January. I chose that brand and model because of the great safety and customer ratings, good price and also because Graco had pledged in 2012 to eliminate the use of Tris and Firemaster 550 chemicals in their products.

Not Needed for Fire Safety

Car seat manufacturers are required to meet the same federal fire test standards that apply to car interiors. The report recommends updating fire safety standards to account for real-life conditions, citing the fact that chemical flame retardants in car seats delay ignition by only a few seconds. This does not provide meaningful protection when the engine catches fire, as it takes two minutes for the passenger compartment to fill with smoke and up to five minutes for the vehicle to catch fire. Non-toxic engineering approaches to both prevent and suppress vehicle fires are recommended.  The best-rated car seats in this study meet fire safety standards without toxic chemicals.

Regulated in Minnesota

Five of the car seats in this study would be banned in 2018 in Minnesota under the Firefighter and Children Health Protection Act* because they contain HBCD or TDCPP in a children’s product. Four of the car seats tested contained a chlorinated tris chemical, either TDCPP or TCPP. TDCPP was banned from children’s sleepwear in 1976 because it was found to be mutagenic and linked to cancer. HBCD, the other banned chemical was found in three of the car seats in this study. Governor Dayton recently signed this bill that also bans two additional toxic flame retardants (deca-BDE and TCEP) in children’s products and upholstered furniture. Deca-BDE was not found in car seats tested in this study and testing for TCEP was not included in the study. (*Car seats with levels of TDCPP and HBCD exceeding 1000 parts per million would be prohibited from sale in Minnesota on July 1, 2018. Retailers may sell existing stock until July 1, 2019.)

Another bill that did not pass in the Minnesota 2015 session was the Toxic Free Kids Act (TFKA). It would have required that manufacturers report priority chemicals in children’s products that the Minnesota Department of Health has determined are hazardous and likely to expose children, including two of the chemicals in this study (deca-BDE and HBCD).  If it had passed, TFKA would have empowered state agencies to provide information to parents on nine priority chemicals in kids’ products so they could purchase products for their children that protect their safety without unnecessarily exposing them to toxic chemicals.

What’s a parent to do?

First of all, your child’s safety in a moving vehicle is the top priority. Keep using your car seat, regardless of how it was rated in this study. HealthyStuff recommends the following:

  • When purchasing a car seat, look for companies that have comprehensive chemical policies. is a good resource for car seat ratings, though all models have not been tested.Limit your child’s time in a car seat. Use your car seat only for travel, not for napping on home use.

  • Limit direct sunlight on the car seat and high temperatures, because more chemicals are released in a hot car. Park in the shade or in a covered parking area whenever possible.  

  • Vacuum the interior of your car and the car seat frequently to eliminate dust particles to which chemical flame retardants cling. Also open car windows when possible.

Back to that Graco car seat I bought for my grandson, I’ve added another precaution.

  • If you own a car seat that was rated poorly in this study, in addition to the above, cover the car seat when sitting in the sun with a thin baby blanket or towel to prevent sunlight degradation. Also to prevent dermal exposure if flame retardants were used in the textile, cover the car seat with a light blanket so baby’s skin is not exposed. It might help and it can’t hurt!