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Flame Retardants, Chemicals Found in Child Car Seats

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Updated: 10/20 12:44 pm

Aug. 3, 2011 -- Some child car safety seats may contain hazardous chemicals including flame retardants, according to the fourth annual report by the Ecology Center, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based nonprofit environmental organization.

Researchers tested more than 150 2011-model infant, convertible, and booster car seats for the presence of potentially harmful chemicals including brominated flame retardants, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), lead, and heavy metal allergens. These chemicals have been associated with reproductive and developmental health problems and certain cancers in animal and some human studies.

The researchers note that the tests were performed on a limited set of chemicals of concern. Tests were not performed for certain other potentially harmful chemicals such a chlorinated flame retardants (CFRs).

Some car seats such as the Graco Comfort Sport in Caleo are virtually free of the toxic chemicals tested, while others such as the Britax Marathon 70in Jet Set contain potentially hazardous chemical combinations. “Poor performing car seats have hazardous flame retardants and may have one or more chemicals such as lead or vinyl-coated fabric,” says study researcher Jeff Gearhart, the research director of healthystuff.org, a project of the Ecology Center.

“Car seats should be used regardless of what our test results show,” he says. The new data can be useful when shopping for a car seat, he says.

“It is very important to understand that these are chemicals in synthetic materials that are present throughout our environment,” not just in car seats, Gearhart says.

Overall, brominated flame retardants were present in 44% of the car seats that were sampled, and 60% of the car seats tested positive for one or more toxic chemicals, the report showed.

The levels do seem to be decreasing when compared to previous reports. In 2009, 63% of the car seats contained brominated flame retardants. The average ranking of car safety seats has improved by 64% since 2009.

Report Ranks Child Car Safety Seats

According to the new report, the child car safety seats with the most hazardous chemicals in each of the three categories include:

  • Infant Seat: Graco Snugride 35 in Edgemont Red/Black & Graco SnugRide 30 in Asprey
  • Convertible Seat: Britax Marathon 70in Jet Set & Britax Marathon in Platinum
  • Booster Seat: Recaro Pro Booster in Blue Opal & Recaro ProSPORT Toddlerin Misty

By contrast, the best 2011 car seats with the least hazardous chemicals tested in each of the three categories include:

  • 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

Jeff Stier, a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative think tank, says this is report is a scare tactic.

“They are suggesting that the mere presence of these chemicals is in some way harmful to children, and that is far from proven,” he says. “Stick with car seats that are comfortable, affordable and that you will use. Don’t be worried about trace levels of exposure to chemicals in car seats that we know save lives."

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