Car Seats’ Hidden Hazard

Environmental Justice Fellow, Center for Environmental Health

In the summer of 2017, my sister will give birth to her first child. She will be the first of our five siblings to become a parent. My excitement to become an uncle grows daily; I know that when the baby is born, my life will take on new meaning and happiness. Like being a brother, I know uncledom will come with its own set of joys and responsibilities: from babysitting and buying birthday gifts to showing up at important events and being a positive role model. Here, I want to pay attention to the importance of giving, and not just gifts or time, but also advice.

In the whirlwind that is being a parent, there is precious little time to make sure that every single item a child encounters is safe. Taking the time to research every toy, piece of clothing and stroller is simply not possible. This is where being a good uncle, brother, grandparent, etc. comes into play. We can support both parent and child by doing the research ourselves and gifting the safest products available. Or at the very least, sharing the information that we find about which products are safe with the parents.

The question then becomes which products should we spend time researching; which products should we gift? In terms of bang for buck, products that the child will spend the most time in contact with are especially important. It has become very common for young children to spend hours in car seats every week, and while car seats are important for ensuring kids are safe while driving, there is a lurking danger that exists within these products.

According to a study done by the Ecology Center of Ann Arbor, Michigan, all 15 of the car seats that they tested contained some level of flame retardant chemicals. Flame retardants have been linked to serious health consequences such as cancer, reduced IQ, developmental delays, obesity, and reproductive difficulties. Children are especially vulnerable to these toxic chemicals because they are still developing.

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-11-46-26-amEven though flame retardants are used in car seats to meet flammability standards, there are differences in the amount of these chemicals found in different products. For example, Britax’s Parkway booster seat contained less potentially hazardous chemicals than Graco’s My Size 65 convertible seat. Beyond the car seat rankings that the Ecology Center includes in their consumer guide, they also provide advice for parents on car seat use and making the car environment safe as a whole.

In August of this year, the Center for Environmental Health created a similar consumer guide for parents, addressing the safety of other kid’s products such as strollers, bassinets, high chairs, and many others. This guide also includes facts about toxic chemicals and tips for parents to create healthy environments for their little ones.

With the shopping season just around the corner, now is the time to inform ourselves, our families and our friends about which products are safest for the loved ones in our lives – and for those that will be here soon.