Toxic Car Seats

January 11, 2017
Baby buckled into auto car seat

As parents we spend hours researching options when considering the purchase of a new car seat, one of the most important and frequently-used tools in keeping our little loved ones safe. We consider price, functionality, color, size, softness, etc. Most of us, however, never dream that we have to consider if the product contains hazardous chemicals or not., a program of the Ecology Center, recently released their 2016 Car Seat Study: Traveling with Toxics: Flame Retardants and Other Chemicals in Children’s Car Seats. Toxic flame retardants were found in ALL 15 tested car seats, particularly in the fabrics.

“It is essential that parents put their kids in properly installed car seats, which provide vital crash protection, regardless of chemical hazard,” said the Ecology Center’s Research Director, Jeff Gearhart. “However, there are some seats that are healthier than others in terms of toxic chemical content.”

HealthyStuff researchers found most car seats still contain brominated flame retardants. Brominated chemicals tend to be persistent (they don’t break down), bioaccumulative (they build up in the food chain and in our bodies), and—here’s the kicker—often toxic. The good news is manufacturers have stopped using some of the worst flame retardants, such as Chlorinated Tris, a known human carcinogen. HealthyStuff researchers found an increase in phosphorus-based, halogen-free flame retardants—another step in the right direction. “Eliminating halogens is important, notes Gillian Miller, Ecology Center Staff Scientist. But she warns that, “Some halogen-free flame retardants also pose health hazards, so these need to be thoroughly evaluated as well.”

The health risks associated with the detected chemicals range from hormone system disruption to developmental delays and cancer. While children are in their car seats, it is possible for them to easily inhale, ingest, and/or absorb these off-gassing toxic chemicals.

The report also celebrates an exciting breakthrough: HealthyStuff testing confirmed UPPAbaby’s 2017 “Mesa Henry” model to be free of chemical flame retardants and is compliant with current flammability standards. The secret? Wool. Wool has natural fire retardant qualities. This car seat will be available in March 2017. HealthyStuff will launch a car seat challenge in 2017, asking all manufacturers to follow UPPAbaby’s lead and introduce flame retardant free car seats in the near future.

What can a parent do right now to keep baby safe?

Every surface and material in the car, not just the car seat, is likely coated or infused with flame retardant chemicals. The following tips from help to decrease toxic exposures.

  • READ THIS REPORT and its ratings to see where your favorite brands rank.
  • VACUUM the car interior and the nooks and crannies of car seats, at least weekly. Toxic chemicals can cling to dust particles. When possible, dust surfaces with a wet cloth and open the car windows.
  • 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.
  • LIMIT DIRECT SUNLIGHT on the car seat and limit high temperatures in your car. Dangerous chemicals can be released at a higher rate when your car becomes hot. When possible, park in the shade or in covered parking. Window coverings in a car also help to lower the interior temperature on a warm day.
  • CONTACT CAR SEAT COMPANIES. Uppababy has proven it is possible. Let other companies know you expect them to manufacture products without toxic chemicals, which threaten the health and development of our children.

To read more about the study and to view the full methodology, results, and rankings, visit

Join parents across the nation on the Car Seat Detox Challenge Facebook group to learn how to take actions that will help keep baby safe.

The Ecology Center’s Melissa Cooper Sargent can be reached at