While some children's car seats are virtually free of the most dangerous chemicals used in consumer products, 60% tested positive for at least one those chemicals, according to a study conducted by the nonprofit Ecology Center.
The good news is that car seats are improving in terms of their toxicity levels. Since 2008, when the Ecology Center started this research, average car seat rankings have improved by 64%.
This year, they tested over 150, 2011-model car seats for bromine (associated with brominated flame retardants); chlorine (indicating the presence of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC and plasticizers); lead; other heavy metals, and allergens.
These substances have been linked to allergies, birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, and cancer. Heat and UV-ray exposure in cars can accelerate the breakdown of these chemicals and possibly increase their toxicity.
Babies are the most vulnerable population in terms of exposure, since their bodily systems are still developing and they spend many hours in their car seats.
The website, www.HealthyStuff.org, has comprehensive data on toxic chemicals in toys, cars, home improvement products and more, allows users to compare best- and worst-scoring car seats with respect to toxic chemical content.
Most Toxic 2011 Car Seats:
- Infant Seat: Graco Snugride 35 in Edgemont Red/Black & Graco SnugRide 30 in Asprey
- Convertible Seat: Britax Marathon 70 in Jet Set & Britax Marathon in Platinum
- Booster Seat: Recaro Pro Booster in Blue Opal & Recaro ProSPORT Toddler in Misty
Least Toxic 2011 Car Seats:
- Infant Seat: Chicco KeyFit 30 in Limonata, Graco Snugride 35 in Laguna Bay & Combi Shuttle 33 in Cranberry Noche
- Convertible Carseat: Graco Comfort Sport in Caleo, Graco MyRide 65 in Chandler and Streamer, Safety 1st OnSide Air in Clearwater, and Graco Nautilus Elite 3-in-1 in Gabe
- Booster Seat: Graco Turbo Booster in Anders
Other brands tested in include: Alpha Sport, Baby Trend, Clek, Compass, Dorel Juvenile Group (Cosco, Eddie Bauer, Maxi-Cosi, Safety First), Evenflo, Fisher Price, Harmony Juvenile, Orbit Baby, Peg Perego, Sunshine Kids, Teutonia and The First Years.
"Car seats save lives. It's absolutely essential that parents put their children in them while driving, regardless of the rating a particular seat received at HealthyStuff.org," says Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center's Research Director. "However, our research shows that some car seats contain more harmful chemicals than others. HealthyStuff.org makes it easier for parents to research the best car seat for their child."
The Alliance for Toxic-Free Fire Safety and HealthyStuff.org are asking the largest car seat retailers, Graco and Evenflo, to disclose and phase out hazardous chemical flame retardant additives.
"This study is yet another example of how our country's major chemicals law - the Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976 - is flawed and fails to protect children from hazardous chemicals," says Andy Igrejas, Director of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition. "Databases such as HealthyStuff.org can provide people with valuable information, but reforming our federal regulatory system so that harmful chemicals don't end up on the market in the first place is long overdue."
Since 1997, researchers at the Ecology Center have performed over 20,000 tests for toxic chemicals on 7,000 consumer products. To sample products they use a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device, which identifies the elemental composition of materials in less than 60 seconds without destroying the product.