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About the research

For this new report, fifteen 2014-model car seats were tested for specific flame retardant chemicals by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. The organization tested the seats for bromine (associated with brominated flame retardants), chlorine, lead, and other heavy metals. According to the report, these substances were tested for as they’ve, “been linked to thyroid problems, learning and memory impairment, decreased fertility, behavioral changes and cancer.” Another issue is that both heat and UV-ray exposure in cars can accelerate the release of these chemicals, plus many children spend hours in a car every week, which can potentially expose them to harmful flame retardants. The report notes that safer car seats are a very big deal because babies are the most vulnerable population in terms of chemical exposure, with bodily systems that are still developing. No car seats tested were 100% free of chemical hazards, but some fared better than others.

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Chemicals found in car seats

Britax, Clek, Graco, Baby Trend, Chicco, Cybex, Dorel Juvenile Group (Eddie Bauer, Safety First), Evenflo, Harmony Juvenile, Orbit Baby, and Peg Perego car seats were all tested and not one was free from all chemical hazards. According to lab research conducted for the report, all car seats contain at least one chemical flame retardant in order to meet the federal fire test standard for vehicle accessories. Some manufacturers, such as Britax and Clek, have moved away from the more dangerous flame retardants due to their toxicity, using safer halogen-free phosphate chemicals instead. One stroke of luck discovered during this study was that zero PBDEs were found in the sample set of car seats. Other brominated chemicals were found though in almost two-thirds of the tested car seats. These brominated replacements have potential health risks and are still highly persistent in the environment. Chlorinated flame retardants were detected in 29% of the tested seats.

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Worst car seats

First of all, remember, the report only tested 15 car seats, so these seats fared the worst out of just 15, although the report also shows that car seats don’t have to contain tons of chemicals as shown below by the best seats tested. Seats by Peg-Perego, Cybex, Orbit Baby, and Baby Trend were found to have higher levels of chemicals than other seats tested. The highest chemical seat tested for this report was the Graco My Size 65 Convertible Seat.

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Best car seats

According to the report, the best approach to safer car seats has been to redesign the product in such a way that eliminates the need for hazardous chemicals. Britax and Clek, two of the highly recommended car seat makers in the report, have implemented green engineering solutions that mean fewer flame retardants are needed. For car seat makers across the board, the report challenges them to develop a comprehensive chemical policy for suppliers that will essentially restrict chemicals of concern in all car seat products. Additionally the report says that all material components should be evaluated often in order to eliminate chemical flame retardants wherever possible and when chemicals must be added, companies should choose the least hazardous of the non-halogenated options. Some of the best and safest car seats in the report include the following:

  • Britax Frontier Booster
  • Britax Parkway Booster
  • Britax Marathon Convertible
  • Clek Foonf Convertible
  • Safety 1st LX 65 Air+ Convertible
  • Chicco Key Fit 30 Infant Seat

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No alternative to car seats

Hopefully you know that there are NO alternatives to car seats. As this report points out many times, car seats have been very successful when it comes to protecting children during car accidents and saving the lives of babies and kids, when they’re used properly. Even though none of the car seats tested were totally free from chemicals, car seats save lives and are therefore necessary, so your best bet is to choose the safest car seat you can. Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center’s Research Director says, “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. However, our research shows that some car seats contain more harmful chemicals than others. The best rated companies in our study, Britax and Clek, have been making great strides to produce healthier products.”

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Learn more about this research

Based on this research, HealthyStuff.org is now asking Graco, one of the largest manufacturers of car seats, to take action and provide a positive leadership example to other car seat makers by disclosing and phasing out hazardous chemical flame retardant additives. Consumers are encouraged to sign a petition to Graco at HealthyStuff.org. Complete product rankings and the ranking methodology of all car seats tested are available at HealthyStuff.org.

RELATED | Non-toxic car seats & safety tips for child passengers

+ Children’s Car Seat Study

+ Ecology Center

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