Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Toxic Chemicals in Child Car Seats

Study Shows Chemicals including PVC, Brominated Flame Retardants and Lead May Contribute to Serious Health and Developmental Problems in Children

Best Infant Seats: Graco SnugRide Emerson & EvenFlo Discovery Churchil
Worst Infant Seats: Combi Centre EX Mango & Peg Perigo Primo Vaggio Toffee

Crash tests aren’t the only way to prove the safety of a car seat, according to new research released today by the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center. The same group that recently released the first-ever consumer guide to toxic chemicals in cars at used the same research methodology to give the public similar information about child car seats. Their research shows that brand new car seats are made with several dangerous chemicals that can lead to serious health risks for children.

Beginning today, you can look up which car seats rank the best and worst in terms of toxic chemical content at Anyone 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.

“Car seats save lives. It’s absolutely essential that parents put their children in them 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.”

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. Children have the highest exposure and are the most vulnerable population in terms of exposure to chemical-laden dust and inhaling toxic fumes, since their systems are still developing.

The Ecology Center tested 62 brand new infant, convertible and booster car seats which are retailed at the #1 babies’ product retailer, Babies “R” Us, and top five retailer Target. While some seats are virtually free of the most dangerous chemicals, others are saturated. To sample the car seats, they used a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device, which identifies the elemental composition of any material in less than 60 seconds.

The study found that the best seats had no brominated flame retardants, no PVC and low levels of other chemicals tested. Over 40% of seat cushions tested contained no brominated flame retardants and 77% of the seats were free of PVC-plastic. However, over 1/3 of all seats tested had one or more components which contained higher levels of toxic chemicals.

While there are numerous substances in car seats that can lead to health and environmental problems, the Ecology Center selected those with known toxicity, persistence, and tendency to build up in people and the environment. These chemicals included:

Bromine: Associated with the use of brominated flame retardants, BFRs are added to plastics in order to impart fire resistance, but they are released into the environment over the life of the vehicle. Heat and UV-ray exposure in cars can accelerate the breakdown of these chemicals and possibly increase their toxicity. Some BFRs have been associated with thyroid problems, learning and memory impairment, decreased fertility, behavioral changes, and other health problems.

Chlorine: Associated with the use of polyvinyl chloride, PVC is a widely used type of plastic that is of concern to the environment and public health during all phases of its life cycle. PVC contains chemicals called phthalates, some of which have been associated with decreased fertility, pre-term deliveries, and damage to the liver, testes, thyroid, ovaries, kidneys, and blood. There is also evidence that phthalates can pass from mothers to babies through the placenta and through breast milk.

Lead: Lead is sometimes used as an additive in automotive plastics. Exposure can lead to a number of potential health effects including brain damage, and problems with the kidneys, blood, nerves, and reproductive system. It can also cause learning and behavioral problems.

Other: Other chemicals tested as part of include antimony, arsenic, chromium, cobalt, copper, mercury, nickel and tin. The substances in this category are allergens, carcinogens, or cause other adverse health impacts depending on the concentrations and exposure levels.


Russ Batson said...

You should be aware that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is working on a regulation that would require PBDE's to be used in upholstered furniture. The U.S. Senate has announced hearings this month--get this--on why the regulation is taking so long. It would be constructive for all concerned about PBDE contamination of the environment to contact their Senators.

Jerome Alicki said...

Thanks Russ, if you have a link to share with background information, please do so. Fortunately the furniture manufacturer I work for is incredibly green, and we don't upholster anything.

Everyone in Michigan needs to know that fire retardants are being found in fish in the Great Lakes, as well as in the oceans. They are pervasive carcinogens. The fact that our government might actually require us to have PDBE applied on our furniture is further indication that the federal government isn't that smart (whodathunkit?). This will undoubtedly lead to unforeseen problems in the future.