Monday, June 29, 2015

The Car Seat Dilemma: They Save Lives but Could They Be Making Kids Sick? How To Choose the Least Toxic Car Seat in 2015







(in December 2016 a new study tested 15 car seats for flame retardant chemicals.   To read the results, read our blog post ' FLAME RETARDANTS CHEMICALS STILL USED IN ALL BUT ONE CAR SEAT BRAND TESTED (NEW STUDY)



Few posts have garnered as many views, questions and comments in this blog as our posts on choosing the least toxic car seat. 

Why?

As parents, many of us are clearly frustrated that a product that so obviously needs to be used every single day and that keeps our children safe inside a car is also, at the same time, exposing them to some pretty bad toxic chemicals.

What is worse?

There is just no reliable way of telling which seats have which chemicals, or how much of them. Even companies who claim to be using "safe flame retardants" (according to the study I will mention below) it turns out use potentially toxic chemicals in their car seats. Company websites and even customer service representatives are often times giving out incorrect information to concerned consumers.

What is a concerned parent to do?

We all have to use car seats. Period. They save lives. So the question really is: how do you choose the least toxic option?

New Study


Today's reality is this: all car seats in the market right now in the US contain at least one chemical flame retardant in order to meet the federal fire test standard for vehicle accessories. With that in mind, today's post is intended to help consumers buy an essential child safety product among an imperfect field.

This is also what the Ecology Center, a Michigan based nonprofit, had in mind when they recently published their newest findings on toxic chemicals in children's car seat (as a side note, do visit their website and perhaps support them since they are one of few organizations testing children's car seats today!).

Fifteen (15) of the best selling 2014-model car seats were included and tested for various different flame retardants that have been linked to thyroid problems, learning and memory impairment, decreased fertility, behavioral changes and cancer.

The results were as follows (please note: these results only take into consideration the level of chemical flame retardants in the car seats and do not take into consideration other safety factors)

Drum roll please....


(in December 2016 a new study tested 15 car seats for flame retardant chemicals.   To read the results, read our blog post ' FLAME RETARDANTS CHEMICALS STILL USED IN ALL BUT ONE CAR SEAT BRAND TESTED (NEW STUDY)



Best overall car seats (these are 2014 models.  Click on our update for 2016 models
 ' FLAME RETARDANTS CHEMICALS STILL USED IN ALL BUT ONE CAR SEAT BRAND TESTED (NEW STUDY)):
(9/2015 update: please note, according to  Clek: "it is our line of Crypton fabrics which are free-from brominated and chlorinated flame retardants (all colours excluding the Drift model)".  The company has stated that in 2015 they hope to offer all models  completely free of brominated and chlorinated flame retardants, however no testing has been done for me to confirm this.  In the meantime make sure you buy the Crypton fabric)
Worst overall car seats:
  • Graco, My Size 65 (Convertible)
  • Baby Trend, Hybrid 3-in-1 (Convertible) 
Other brands tested include: Chicco, Cybex, Dorel Juvenile Group (Eddie Bauer, Safety First), Evenflo, Harmony Juvenile, Orbit Baby, Peg.Perego
  • Nearly ¾ of the​ seats tested contained hazardous halogenated flame retardants and over half contained non-halogenated organophosphate flame retardants
Remind me-why is this important? How exactly can flame retardants chemicals in the car seat affect my child?

The problem with flame retardant chemicals is that they do not stick/ bind very well to the product they are used on.... thus, they are released over time. Mostly into dust particles and air

 then

Heat and UV-ray exposure in cars can accelerate the release of these chemicals from products into the vehicle environment

and then

Infants, toddlers and children can be exposed to these chemicals through inhalation, ingestion and dermal (skin) absorption.

finally,

The longer your child sits in his/ her car seat the more exposed they are to these chemicals

So, how bad are flame retardant? Is there such a thing as a safer fire retardant?

The short answer: flame retardants are pretty bad (can be carcinogenic, affect thyroid etc) and we don't really know if there is such a thing a s safe one. Here is a little history on flame retardants (courtesy of the Ecology Center):

In the 1970’s, a chemical known as chlorinated tris, or TDCPP, was used to treat children’s pajamas to make the fabric slower to catch fire. Chlorinated tris was a replacement for a chemical that was found to be carcinogenic. Years later, Chlorinated tris was revealed to be a carcinogen too (and was removed from pajamas.)

Chlorinated tris= proven to be carcinogenic = should never again be used in children's products right?

Well, not exactly.

Fast forward to 2004... In 2004 (after another flame retardant was phased out due to health concerns) Chlorinated tris once again became the go to chemical for a number of products; in furniture, car interiors, tents, and children’s products such as nap mats and crib pads (but not pajamas). Where else? Yes, you guessed it, this proven carcinogenic chemical was also found in two of the 2014 model car seats in this new study.

This is a good example of how replacement chemicals are sometimes no safer than the banned chemicals they are replacing. Sometimes (as is the case with chlorinated tris) "proven" bad chemicals make a comeback, other times, new chemicals with little to no safety studies are used.  This is why Federal Chemical Safety Laws need to be updated - but that is a whole other issue.
Having said that there are 3 classes of flame retardant
  1. Brominated, (also called halogenated) are considered quite toxic and extremely persistence in the environment.
  2. Chlorinated (also called halogenated) are considered quite toxic and extremely persistence in the environment.
  3. Phosphate-based. These are the replacement chemicals du jour being used to replace the toxic halogenated flame retardants. According to limited research studies, some of these replacements may be safer for human health. Let's cross our fingers, because while laws continue to require flame retardants in car seats these seem to be our safest bet. Some manufacturers, such as Britax and Clek, are opting for these chemicals because so far they seem like the least toxic of the 3.
But, if these chemicals can save my child in a car fire- then isn't that more important?

If the answer were yes, this debate would be quite different. The reality is that car fires move so fast that these fire retardants are no longer considered to be of any help retarding flames in real life scenarios

Detailed results

The ratings, shown in Table 3, show all of the car seats included in the study and the level of chemicals of concern



For more details on what specific chemicals were found in which car seat download the full technical report

Other recommendations
  • Limit the time your children spend in their car seats. Only use the car seat during travel, not as a place for your child to nap or sit outside of the car (especially common for infants)
  • Limit direct sunlight on the car seat and high temperatures in your car. Window coverings in a car also substantially lower the interior temperature on a warm day.
  • Vacuum the car interior and the nooks and crannies of car seats. Chemicals that migrate out, including flame retardants, can cling to dust particles. Open the car windows when possible.
  • Washing car seat covers can remove contaminated dust and other particles.
In November 2015 we had the opportunity to talk to one of the US's leading experts on flame retardants; Dr. Heather Stapleton from Duke University.   To read her answers to our questions (many of the questions were taken from questions I have received from this post and past posts), read out post titled  'Duke's Boss Lady of Flame Retardants: What To Do About Flame Retardants in Car Seats and Beyond'

In October 2016 we also informed our readers of the first reportedly flame retardant free infant car seat.  Read our post ' COMING SOON- THE FIRST FLAME RETARDANT FREE INFANT CAR SEAT' to find out more!

32 comments :

  1. Thank you for this post. I have been searching for the least toxic yet safest car seat and it has been a struggle. I was between Britax, Graco, and Diono. It looks like Britax wins. Where did you find the rating for the Britax Clicktight? I didn't see it on heathystuff.org, just Marathon in general.

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    1. Hi! Thanks so much for your comment- according to this latest study, indeed, it seems Britax is a safer bet. Thanks for calling our attention to the typo though! Indeed the study only looked at the Britax Marathon (Convertible). This has been corrected! Thank you!!

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  2. If only I knew then, what I know now...I can't say how many times I've thought this with baby #2. We used a Chicco KeyFit 30 with our first baby. We will have it 3.5 years later. You said "The problem with flame retardant chemicals is that they do not stick/ bind very well to the product they are used on.... thus, they are released over time. Mostly into dust particles and air" We've had the carseat and the stroller sitting in storage for a bit and the last 7 months it's been in our garage (which can get pretty hot, AZ summer). I've started setting both pieces out in the sun. My question is...how much flame retardant toxins could still be in there? I'm paranoid with putting baby #2 in there...but seeing the toxins don't stick to the fabric very well...I wonder if it's safer to use now that it's been airing out for so long and that I will be putting it in the sunshine. Any thoughts on this? I just don't want to put my newborn into something that could still be dangerous. Please help this mama out :)

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    1. Hi Jena,
      I wish it worked like that, but unfortunately it doesn't. While it is true that flame retardant chemicals do not bind very well to the foam/fabric they are sprayed on (causing it to migrate into the dust and air you breathe at home and in the car), it is also true that SO MUCH flame retardant chemical is impregnated on the foam that it can stick around for many many years. According to the lead researcher from Duke University's Superfund research program on flame retardant, she found that "some retardants were used in sufficiently high quantities that even after more than two decades, the PentaBDE in one old couch accounted for approximately 4% by weight of foam samples taken from its cushions".

      In fact, I would even go as far as to tell you not to put these items in the sun since the sun could be deteriorating the fabric?

      It is really super frustrating. At this point, if you don't want to buy a new infant car seat (and I totally get that!) perhaps you could :
      1. look into an organic car seat cover that fits snuggly on your car seat (I believe Etsy has some - if I come across it I will post it here).
      2. minimize the time your infant is in that car seat. Lot's of moms (me included with my first baby) tend to let their babies nap in the infant seat when you are out and about and leave the baby in that infant seat by attaching it to the stroller.
      3. Try to spend little time in the car in general (remember the inside of the car has a lot of flame retardants in addition to those used on your child's car seat)
      4. Keep the interior of your car and house clean and as dust free as possible.

      Hope this helps!!! Good luck with #2!!! He or she will rock your world :-)

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  3. Britax is the best brand of stroller and carseat, I've never have to worry about their quality.
    You can check reviews of Britax's products on my blog babystrollercarseatcombo.com

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  4. Any news on the Diono Rainier? How does it currently stand up to the others?

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    1. Hi!
      I have not come up with any official testing of the Diono regarding flame retardants! Will make sure to update when I do

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  6. Hi, I'm very frustrated and sick to my stomach. I bought Orbit baby after so much research and my baby has been riding in the orbit baby g3 for almost 6 months now. I even emailed them before I bought the carseat for this very purpose and this is what they sent me back http://www.orbitbaby.com/articles/flame-retardants
    What do you think about this? What carseat is the best for a six month old?? Thank you so much for any response and input:)

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  7. Hi ! I totally understand.... this is an extremely frustrating situation. The website Orbit baby forwarded explains that their fabric is free of flame retardants. They do not mention the foam underneath the fabric. According to the Ecology Center's 2015 report (where they tested one G3 model of the Orbit baby car seat line) the G3 tested positive for both Chlorinated and Brominated flame retardants: in both the foam and the "textile black".... I think it is clear that a. the orbit baby foam is currently being made with flame retardants ( I believe I read somewhere that they switched foam manufacturers in recent years which is when the flame retardants started showing up on Orbit Baby models and when the company's website started specifying that only their fabric is free of flame retardants... no mention of the foam). In any case, flame retardants migrate easily (especially when exposed to heat) from foam to the environment where they are. Not the best news BUT at this point I would recommend perhaps buying a fitted car seat cover, dusting/cleaning interior of the car frequently, keeping your baby in the car seat as little as possible, perhaps keeping car seat out of a hot car if the car is going to be sitting in the sun for an extended period of time (ie going on summer vacation) . The lead researcher of the Duke University Superfund research program studying flame retardants also had a couple of tips she shared you can read here:
    http://www.nontoxicmunchkin.com/2015/11/dukes-boss-lady-of-flame-retardants.html

    I will say, it sounds like you are doing a great job taking care of your baby. Making changes/ eliminating chemicals from other parts of your baby's daily routine is also a great way to reduce his/her exposure to harmful chemicals.... if you are able to take these and other steps I would feel ok about continuing to use the Orbit ( when the time comes to buy a booster seat look back to find the latest tests on flame retardants are - I continuously update when new information is available.... also continue following us here or on Facebook because we do constantly offer tips for reducing chemical exposure in daily activities which I feel strongly are hugely important.)

    Hope this helps!!!!

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  8. I'm confused why no one is talking about the NUNA. WE HAVE 2 of these car seats and love them. They are the best built and least toxic car seats on the market. I only wish they would make another model for older children.

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    1. Hi! I have heard good things about the NUNA however, the NUNA was not included in the recent testing and as such, as consumers, we have no reliable way to really know if they do or do not use flame retardants. In the past companies (like Orbit) who have claimed to not use flame retardants were shown to indeed have flame retardants. Because of this I can't officially recommend the NUNA even if they report not using flame retardants.... quite frankly I have lost some of my faith in many car seat companies...... Having said that I did send an email to the folks at the Ecology Center suggesting they consider testing the Nuna in their next group of tests. Hopefully they will!
      (ps I have heard that some mothers have independently had their NUNA's tested by Duke's Superfund and these have indeed come out negative for flame retardants. Unfortunatley Duke does not publish their results and brands tested - so there is no official record that I have seen. If you happen to have the opportunity to send in a foam sample to Duke ( http://foam.pratt.duke.edu/how-submit-sample ) and they send you an official record please please please share with me!!!

      Happy New Year!

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  9. I don't see any infant carseats on the list, any recommendations? Thanks

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    1. Hi Brooke!
      The Clek has an infant insert that allows the car seat to be used, rear facing for infants 5 -22 lbs. I believe the Britax MArathon alsoo has an infant insert - but not 100% sure.
      Hope this helps!

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    2. Hi Brooke, we just hear about a new infant car seat that is set to come to market next year that will be the first infant car seat without flame retardants. You can read more about the new car seat coming in 2017 by Uppa baby here:
      http://www.nontoxicmunchkin.com/2016/10/coming-soon-first-flame-retardant-free.html

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  10. I see that the britax marathon convertible is highly recommended. I cant quite afford that, but I can afford the britax roundabout. Would that also be low in toxins? Emily

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    1. Hi! Two sided answer: on one hand that particular model was not tested so we have no way of confirming if it does or does not contain the most worrisome flame retardant chemicals. However, the three Britax models that were tested tested well. The company has made a pledge to phase out the worse types of flame retardant chemicals (which normally would not mean anything since many of these companies have unfortunately proven to be deceptive, but considering that three of their models are in line with what the company is saying it *seems* to be true...). if the three models included are absolutely out of your price range I would venture to conclude that their other (new model) car seats should be ok too..... but, like I said, unless someone tests it there is no assurance .

      Hope this helps!?

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  11. it looks like the tested britax Marathon carseat came in Wave upholstery. That looks to be generally sold out, but if I remember results from older tests I have read, It seems like the results for car seats of the same make/model vary widely depending on which color/upholstery is chosen. If I can't find a Wave, is there any reason to think the results for the Britax Marathon will apply across the other upholstery styles in the Marathon line?

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  13. Hi Aida, thanks for sharing this. I bought Marathon. the Marathon is our most popular as it is the cheapest (on sale for $264) :) Selina | Best Convertible Car Seat 2016

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  14. what about diono and recaro why werent those tested

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  15. what about diono and recaro why werent those tested

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    1. Hi SmadaMama
      Not sure why they were not included - I have contacted them and made suggestions for future testing- but since they are a non profit they have to get funding which is not always easy. Hopefully they will able to do a new updated study soon though! Many new car seats brands and models to test !

      Delete
  16. Hi, I know i am late here, but hoping you can still respond.... are you listing the colors on the Britax (aka "onyx") because that is the color that does not have flame retardants, and others do? I can no longer find the "marathon" britax in onyx... and their site does not give any info on toxins for their new styles/colors....

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    1. Hi Emily,
      Sorry for the late response - somehow I missed your message in November!
      Couple of things you need to understand
      1. Different colors and materials from the same company have indeed tested differently in the past..... since we ourselves don't have the ability to test each model/color the safest thing is to stick to the materials/colors specified in published tests.
      2. having said that, Britax as a company claims to have made major changes to all of their products. ( you can find more info on what specific changes they have made on page 9 of this report: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5qYQqdu0iEQUUQxR3dNRFAzZWM/view )
      3. having said that, the sad reality is that other well known companies (ie: Orbit Baby) have in the past made claims of prohibiting the use of FR chemicals in their car seats and yet these car seats have actually tested positive for bad FR chemicals - so the industry has lost a lot of credibility.

      Ultimately, the safest option is to stick to the specific colors/models specifies in this post since those are the ones that we know have tested negative for FR chemicals.

      Clearly a new study of FR chemicals in carseats would be useful, since in the year since this was published, various new models and new companies have popped up in the marketplace.

      Not sure how much of a hurry you are in but UPPA baby has a 2017 model that should be in stores soon (once again it will be one specific color/material) that they claim will be 100% free of FR chemicals.... if you can wait a month or so it might be worth your wild.... If you sign up for our blog updates I am tracking that car seat to market and will be informing my readers as soon as it is available!
      hope this helps!

      Delete
  17. I am really enjoying reading your well written articles. It looks like you spend a lot of effort and time on your blog. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. bucket seat cover

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  18. Thank you for this information! Super helpful as I hunt for a safe infant carseat...Like Emily, I am looking to buy a Britax but concerned that the color option is important in the safety ratings and can't find onyx in stock anywhere.

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    1. Hi!
      I had actually missed Emily's comment and just answered it, and will answer yours here too-
      Couple of things you need to understand
      1. Different colors and materials from the same company have indeed tested differently in the past ..... since we ourselves don't have the ability to test each model/color the safest thing is to stick to the materials/colors specified in published tests.
      2. having said that Britax, as a company, claims to have made major changes to all of their products. ( you can find more info on what specific changes they have made on page 9 of this report: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5qYQqdu0iEQUUQxR3dNRFAzZWM/view )
      3. BUT, the sad reality is that other well known companies (ie: Orbit Baby) have in the past made claims of prohibiting the use of FR chemicals in their car seats and yet these car seats have actually tested positive for bad FR chemicals - so the industry has lost a lot of credibility.

      Ultimately, the safest option is indeed, to stick to the specific colors/models specifies in this post since those are the ones that we know have tested negative for FR chemicals.

      Clearly a new study of FR chemicals in carseats would be useful, since in the year since this was published, various new models and new companies have popped up in the marketplace.

      Not sure how much of a hurry you are in but UPPA baby has a 2017 model that should be in stores soon (once again it will be one specific color/material) that they claim will be 100% free of FR chemicals.... if you can wait a month or so it might be worth your wild.... If you sign up for our blog updates I am tracking that car seat to market and will be informing my readers as soon as it is available!
      Hope this helps!

      Delete
  19. I'm in search for a non toxic toddler booster car seat for my son. The UPPA Nuna keeps coming up but it is quite expensive and I read previous posts that it has yet to be determined if it is safe to say it is completely non toxic. I came across Clek's booster car seat that is "greenguard select certified crypton fabrics (except leather). "GREENGUARD Select Certified
    Crypton® Super Fabrics are GREENGUARD Select Certified and provide permanent protection against stains, moisture and odor-causing bacteria; and are free of brominated and chlorinated flame retardants. Not included with drift." Any information on this product? Thanks in advance!

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    1. Hi There!
      Indeed, the Clek booster was tested late last year and was found to be a pretty good option, although the warning label on the car seat was found to contain Brominated FR. (but the majority of the car seat - the Pu foam- uses the considered ‘safer’ phosphate based FR ). I actually wrote a more updated piece on car seats in December 2016 which I would encourage you to take a look at since there is an easy to follow list of options for you. In a nutshell: currently all car seats in the market in the US contain some sort of FR chemicals - it is a matter of determining which are less toxic than others (these are listed in the article). However in June of this year Uppa Baby will be selling their new HENRY Mesa car seat which will be the first ever car seat without flame retardant chemicals (it uses wool which is a natural flame retardant).... not sure if you can wait until then or if it works for the size of your child.... in any case please do take a look at the most recent article:
      http://www.nontoxicmunchkin.com/2016/12/flame-retardants-chemicals-still-used.html
      Let me know if you have any other questions... As soon as the Uppa Baby becomes available I will be posting on the blog , on Instagram (@nontoxicmunchkin) and on Facebook in case you would like to follow us!

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  20. I'm in search for a non toxic toddler booster carseat. UPPA Nuna keeps popping up but besides being expensive, it has yet to be determined if it is truly non toxic (based on previous posts) and the fact that it has yet to be tested. Another brand has come up and it is the Clek brand. They have the oobr that comes with headrest and backframe. Then the backless as well. The website states that it is made with GREENGUARD Select Certified
    Crypton® Super Fabrics are GREENGUARD Select Certified and provide permanent protection against stains, moisture and odor-causing bacteria; and are free of brominated and chlorinated flame retardants. Not included with drift. Any information on this product would be greatly appreciated!

    ReplyDelete