Car seats were tested for bromine, chlorine, lead, and other heavy metals. Heat and UV-ray exposure in cars can accelerate the breakdown of chemicals, and may even increase their toxicity.
WTSP 10 News reports:
"Sixty percent of children's car seats tested contained at least one toxic chemical ... The study also found brominated flame retardant chemicals, that are either deemed toxic or lack adequate health safety data, in 44 percent of seats tested."
It is ironic that the seats parents depend on to keep their children safe while in the car could be exposing them to chemicals that are known to cause serious health damage, particularly to young children and babies.
But this is precisely the problem with so many products that Americans depend on daily -- rather than companies being held accountable for their use of toxic chemicals, regulatory agencies essentially give them a green light to do so as they allow toxins like brominated flame retardants (PBDEs), BPA, phthalates, and others in consumer products. This is why a number of products intended for children, like baby bottles, toys and crib mattresses, are actually loaded with toxic chemicals.
Getting back to car seats, I want to stress that you should continue to use a car seat for your child, even if it contains chemicals. Not only is this the law, but it is essential to protect your child while you're driving.
What Types of Chemicals are in Car Seats?
The Ecology Center tested more than 150 infant, convertible and booster car seats, model year 2011, for bromine, chlorine, lead and other heavy metals and allergens. Results revealed that 60 percent of the seats contained at least one of the chemicals, which have been linked to health problems including:
- Birth defects
- Impaired learning
- Liver toxicity
Specifically, the chemicals commonly found in car seats include:
- Brominated flame retardants: Flame-retardant chemicals like PBDEs have been linked to altered thyroid levels, decreased fertility and numerous problems with development when exposure occurs in utero. PBDEs are commonly found in household items like upholstery and television and computer housings. Fortunately, several states now ban the use of PBDEs, so there is some progress toward reducing exposure.
- Chlorine: Chlorine was tested because it indicates the presence of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC and plasticizers. These, in turn, contain phthalates -- endocrine-disrupting chemicals that have been linked to a wide range of developmental and reproductive effects, including reduced sperm counts, testicular atrophy or structural abnormality, inflammation and liver cancer.
- Lead: Children are especially susceptible to high levels of lead, which can cause damage to the brain, red blood cells, and kidneys. Exposure to even low levels of lead can cause lower IQ, hearing impairment, reduced attention span and poor performance in the classroom.
- Mercury: Mercury is a potent toxin that can damage your brain, central nervous system and kidneys. Children and fetuses, whose brains are still developing, are most at risk.
Chemicals Widespread in Children's Products
It's important to understand that car seats are not unique when it comes to containing chemicals. For instance, a recent study in Environmental Science & Technology took samples from 101 commonly used baby products that contain polyurethane foam.
This included such products as:
Nursing pillows Baby carriers Car seats Changing table pads High chairs Strollers Bassinets Portable cribs Walkers Baby tub inserts and bath slings Glider rockers Sleeping wedges
Researchers revealed that 80 percent of the products tested contained flame retardant chemicals that may be toxic! As HealthyStuff.org reported:
- "Four products contained penta-BDE, a substance so toxic it is banned in 172 countries and 12 U.S. states, and subject to a national phaseout.
- 29 products contained TDCPP or chlorinated Tris, a possible human carcinogen that was removed from children's pajamas over health concerns in the late 1970s. In animal studies chlorinated Tris has been associated with cancer of the liver, kidney, brain and testis, among other harmful effects.
- 14 products contained TCEP, a carcinogenic flame retardant on California's Proposition 65 list of cancer-causing chemicals. Laboratory animal studies show TCEP causes tumors in the kidney and thyroid glands. In other laboratory animal studies, TCEP has been shown to cause reductions in fertility and poor sperm quality and to interfere with brain signaling, causing hyperactivity. TCEP is no longer produced in Europe and has been identified by Canada as posing a risk to human health.
- 16 products contained Firemaster 550/600 flame retardants. EPA has predicted toxicity and required additional testing.
- 14 products contained TCPP, which is similar in chemical structure to Chlorinated Tris and TCEP and has limited health information."
The point is, when reviewing your child's chemical exposures it would be counterproductive to only focus on one item, like a car seat, when, truth be told, many products made for children that are sold in the United States are often bathed in flame-retardants and other chemicals. Even your car itself is full of chemicals; ever heard of "new car smell"? That smell is actually the result of various chemicals outgassing into your vehicle!
So How Can You Keep Your Children Safe from Chemicals?
As far as your car seat goes, HealthyStuff.org has published a list of the best and worst picks for car seats, in terms of chemical exposures. Keep in mind, however, that you may want to include other factors as well, such as accident safety ratings, in your decision on which car seat to purchase.
No matter what type you have, it's safe to assume it contains some chemicals. So you should keep your windows cracked in the car when the weather is nice to allow the outgassed chemicals to escape. Be sure you roll down your windows before you turn on the air conditioning, as otherwise the dangerous gasses will get recirculated.
Also if you leave your car in the sun all day it might be good to keep the windows slightly open to prevent a greenhouse effect; higher temperatures in your car will allow the chemicals to outgas even more. Just be sure to close your windows if it is going to rain.
Next, I suggest you address the toxins in the products your children are exposed to most of all, namely their crib mattress.
As of July 1, 2007, all U.S. mattresses are required to be highly flame retardant, to the extent that they won't catch on fire if exposed to a blow torch. This means that the manufacturers are dousing them with highly toxic flame-retardant chemicals like PBDE, which do NOT have to be disclosed in any way.
PBDEs build up in your body over time, and what you absorb or inhale does not go away. Not surprisingly, the chemicals are now showing up in breast milk, blood tests and even umbilical-cord blood and livers of fetuses. As Dr. Doris J. Rapp, MD, board-certified as both an environmental medical specialist and pediatric allergist, explains:
"They have maybe a cup and a half or two cups of this material on the mattress. They sprinkle it over the top or they put it into some kind of a coating on the mattress. And this can make people very, very ill."
Think about it.
You spend from six to nine hours every night with your face in close proximity to your mattress, breathing in these chemicals. Your children spend even longer sleeping, with their faces even closer to the mattress surface. And if your children jump on the bed, or you bounce on your mattress, even more of these toxins can be released into the air. For this reason, look for an organic or 100% wool mattress for your child.
Why it's Important to Protect Your Child from Chemicals
Remember, children experience greater exposure to chemicals pound-for-pound than adults, and have an immature and porous blood-brain barrier, which allows greater chemical exposures to reach their developing brain. Children also have lower levels of some chemical-binding proteins, according to the Environmental Working Group, which allows more of a chemical to reach their organs, while systems that detoxify and excrete chemicals in adults are not fully developed.
These factors, coupled with the fact that a child will be around for 80 years or more, allows more than enough time for chemicals to do their damage and signals a major challenge for kids born today. I encourage everyone with children or grandchildren to review Theo Colburn's Our Stolen Future, which is a great resource on this topic. In the meantime, there are numerous ways you can help take some of this chemical burden off of your child, such as:
Breastfeed and then feed only organic and/or locally grown fresh foods (not processed foods) Only use glass baby bottles for your baby Give your baby natural fabric or wood toys instead of plastic ones Look for organic baby products, and those made from natural materials, whenever possible Have your tap water tested and, if contaminants are found, install an appropriate water filter on all your faucets (even those in your shower or bath) Switch to natural brands of toiletries for your child, including shampoo, fluoride-free toothpaste, lotions, etc. Look for "green," toxin-free alternatives for your home in lieu of regular paint, carpeting and vinyl floor coverings Choose toxin-free furniture for the nursery Only use natural cleaning products in your home.