The study raises concern, but car seats remain vital to the safety of young travelers
By Jen Stockburger
While progress is being made, child car seats designed to keep young children safe still contain toxic chemicals, according to a study published by the Ecology Center’s Healthy Stuff Lab. Despite the concerns raised by this study, using a properly fitted child safety seat is still the best way to transport a child in a car.
The 2022 study found that while car seat companies have made significant improvements in reducing children’s exposure to the toxic chemicals found in flame retardants, some seats, particularly lower priced ones, still contain some potentially harmful chemicals. The study highlights the good news that 42 car seat models from eight companies are now marketed as flame retardant (FR) free. That compares to just eight seats and four companies in 2018. Chemical flame retardants are added to seats to meet federal flammability requirements for vehicle interiors.
Previous studies have shown that car seats may have flame retardants that contain chlorine or bromine, which are known to have health and environmental impacts. As a replacement, phosphorus-based flame retardants are now more common, but there is little information about whether they too can be harmful. Of the 22 car seats tested from the US market for this study, exactly half contained phosphorus-based flame retardants.
According to the study, phosphorus-based flame retardants produced without halogens have increased in use as concerns about halogenated flame retardants have grown. Their use in everyday products has led to their widespread presence in the earth’s fresh water, despite the fact that their toxicity profiles are largely unknown, according to the study.
The study highlighted that the presence of these flame retardant chemicals may affect lower-priced car seats more. Adding flame retardants is a less expensive way to meet flammability requirements than using specialized fabrics that can do it more naturally. Car seat companies struggle to produce child car seats under $100 without flame retardant additives, the study found.
There are constant questions about whether flame retardants are necessary for vehicle interiors and therefore child seats. Consumer Reports supports the reduction of chemical flame retardants in other consumer products. Perhaps most importantly, we support work to find new methods of containing fire with natural barriers and materials.
What can you do?
Continue to use your child restraint system. The risk of your child being injured in a crash is far greater than the known issues surrounding chemical exposure.
Limit use outside the car. For many other safety reasons related to your child’s development, breathing ability, and overall safety, as well as limiting their exposure to such chemicals, you should avoid using your child seat for extended periods of time that are not include travel. Your child’s car seat should not be used for long periods of sleeping, eating or playing.
Keep the seats clean. Take some time to periodically vacuum not only the seat but also the interior of the vehicle. This will help limit the amount of dust where chemicals released from the seat or vehicle interior can settle.
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