A study of children’s car seats has found that over half – or 60 per cent of them – contain at least one toxic chemical and in some cases more, according to HealthyStuff.org, a project of the nonprofit Michigan-based Ecology Centre.
More than 150 children’s car seats – all 2011 models – were tested from most of the major North American manufacturers.
The seats were tested for bromine (associated with brominated flame retardants); chlorine (which indicates the presence of polyvinyl chloride or PVC); lead and other heavy metals, along with a series of allergens, said Jeff Gearheart, research director for HealthyStuff.org in an interview with the Star.
Bromine is a chemical that accumulates in the food chain as well as the human body and has been shown to cause infertility as well as learning impairment and can affect the developing brain.
Other substances detected in the car seats have also been linked to liver toxicity and cancer. PVC has been classified by the US Environmental Protection Agency as a human carcinogen.
Heat and UV-ray exposure can accelerate the breakdown of these chemicals in the car.
“These chemicals are persistent and bio-accumulative in the environment,” said Gearheart. “They don’t break down in the environment and they’re released from the products.
“Consumers should take reasonable and prudent steps when purchasing products,” he advised.
The study is kind of like a parents’ Lemon Aid to children’s car seats. It is a follow up to a similar study done in 2008 and 2009.
Brands tested included: Alpha Sport, Baby Trend, Britax, Chicco, Clek, Combi, Compass, Dorel Juvenile Group (Cosco, Eddie Bauer, Maxi-Cosi, Safety First), Evenflo, Fisher Price, Graco, Harmony Juvenile, Orbit Baby, Peg Perego, Recaro, Sunshine Kids, Teutonia and The First Years.
Forty-four per cent of the car seats tested in the 2011 study tested positive for brominated flame retardant chemicals.
Levels varied between different models of the same make or car seat. The source usually came from flame retardant used on the upholstery or cushioning.
“One of the things I’m glad to see is car seats as a whole are improving,” said Gearheart. “It appears manufacturers have been moving to take these chemicals out from their products. Consumer interest is pushing companies to make healthier products.”
While the chemical levels are still too high, manufacturers appear to be using a lot less PVC and a lot less lead in child car seats, he added.
But Canadian environmental advocates had mixed reactions to the study.
“I think it’s disappointing that these manufacturers aren’t making more progress getting these known toxic chemicals out of kids’ stuff,” adds Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence and one of the authors of Slow Death by Rubber Duck.
“It’s a small comfort that there’s an 18 per cent decrease in the number of car seats with this stuff in them. I think manufacturers have rocks in their heads not to get this out immediately.
“It’s very clear that brominated flame retardants are unneccessary and harmful and should be curtailed immediately,” he said.
“The industry itself has recognized it needs to move away from these chemicals and were in a phase out period where companies and manufacturers are going to stop using the chemical.
“It doesn’t help however the people who have car seats now. And often car seats are handed down. So these things will be around for a while.”
According to the study the poorest performing car seats of 2011 were:
•Graco Snugride 35 in Edgemont Red/Black and Graco Snugride 30 in Asprey in the infant seat category;
•Britax Marathon 70 in Jet Set and Britax Marathon in Platinum in the convertible seat category; and
•Recaro Pro Booster in Blue Opal and Recaro ProSPORT Toddler in Misty in the booster seat category.
According to HealthyStuff.org’s research the best car seats in 2011 were:
•Chicco KeyFit 30 in Limonata, Graco Snugride 35 in Laguna Bay and Combi Shuttle 33 in Cranberry Noche in the infant category;
•the 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 in the convertible car seat category; and
•Graco Turbo Booster in Anders in the booster seat category.
For a complete list of all the car seats studied go here.
More than half of car seats contain at least one toxic chemical