Parents need good car seats to keep babies and children safe while driving. In fact, the law requires them. Unfortunately, most children’s car seats contain hazardous chemicals used as flame retardants and stain treatments. Manufacturers use these chemicals as an inexpensive way to meet outdated fire safety standards – and children breathe them in whenever they spend time buckled in.
In a recent study of children’s car seats, scientists at the Ecology Center found that toxic chemicals used as flame retardants were present in an alarming 83% of car seats tested. The Center also found that half of car seats tested contained PFAS chemicals used for their stain-resistant properties (folks in North Carolina are familiar with GenX, the most high-profile member of the PFAS family). Consumer pressure in recent years has led a handful of manufacturers to offer flame retardant-free seats. Despite these positive steps in some car seats, most young children remain at risk of exposure to these hazardous chemicals. Updating outdated flammability standards would accelerate the movement to get these toxic chemicals out of children’s car seats – and protect the health of all infants and children who use them.
What makes toxic flame retardants hazardous?
Many toxic chemicals used as flame retardants are very mobile in the environment. These chemicals aren’t strongly bound to the foam or fabric to which they are added. They do not break down easily, and they are able to travel long distances once airborne. Several of these toxic chemicals can interfere with the body’s endocrine system, and are linked to cancer. For some, toxicity information is still unknown. These are not chemicals that belong in children’s products.
Updating Outdated Safety Standards
In an effort to protect all infants and small children, our colleagues at the Ecology Center and a coalition of manufacturers, child safety advocates, and public health groups are calling on the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration to update flammability standards so that children’s car seats are exempt. Another approach would be for the NHTSA to put an alternative standard into place that accounts for realistic fire safety, without unnecessary chemical hazards.
Federal law requires a car seat to pass flammability tests that were set in 1976. But no government agency or research group has ever produced evidence that added flame retardants protect children in vehicle fires. These flame retardants do, however, present real hazards to children’s health.
Car seats provide vital crash protection, and children should always ride in properly installed seat, regardless of chemical hazards. But seat foams and fabrics don’t need to contain carcinogens, hormone disruptors, and developmental toxicants to protect children in the event of collision or fire.
How You Can Take Action
Changes to flammability standards will allow manufacturers to produce safe, affordable car seats without the use of added toxic flame retardants. We encourage you to join us in signing the petition to detox childrens car seats and help protect our children’s health.
A version of this blog post was published by the Ecology Center on December 3, 2018.
Vikki Crouse is NC Child’s Health Program Associate
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