Car Seats: Non-Toxic AND Safe?

The following post is from Katie of Kitchen Stewardship:

safe car seats

source: Katie Kimball

When you have a baby, you suddenly find yourself Googling phrases like “crash test ratings infant car seat” and “safest convertible child restraint” when you wouldn’t have thought twice about vehicle safety beyond “buckle up!” before that.

Now you’ve got one more box to check on the “safe car seat” list: toxicity.

HealthyStuff.org recently released a list of toxic chemicals linked to allergies, birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, and cancer found in more than half of the car seats they tested.

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about just putting our children to bed in flame-retardant pajamas, now we have to pay attention to what car seats we buy, right down to the color.

That’s right: your fashion sense might just determine your baby’s exposure to toxic chemicals.

The exact same infant car seat made both the “most toxic” and “least toxic” lists, simply with different color covers.

The Car Seat Toxicity Results

For those of you who already have your car seats, you may not even want to read these results. Part of me doesn’t even want to know if my newborn son’s seat is on this list…but I’m more thoughtful about setting him in the seat for a quick nap if we don’t have to go anywhere.

From the press release in early August:

The latest research on toxic chemicals in children’s car seats was released today by the nonprofit Ecology Center at the consumer-friendly site, www.HealthyStuff.org. While some seats were found to be virtually free of the most dangerous chemicals, over half (60%) contained at least one of the chemicals tested for.

Best Overall Child Car Seat: Graco Turbo Booster (in Anders)

Worst Overall Child Car Seat: Recaro Pro Booster (in Blue Opal)

Over 150, 2011-model car seats were tested for bromine (associated with brominated flame retardants); chlorine (indicating the presence of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC and plasticizers); lead; other heavy metals, and allergens. These substances have been linked to allergies, birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, and cancer. Heat and UV-ray exposure in cars can accelerate the breakdown of these chemicals and possibly increase their toxicity.

Babies are the most vulnerable population in terms of exposure, since their bodily systems are still developing and they spend many hours in their car seats.

Most Toxic 2011 Car Seats:

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

Least Toxic 2011 Car Seats:

  • 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

View the full list of all seats tested here.

source: HealthyStuff.org press release

But What About the Crash Tests?

That’s the question parents most want to know: where do health and safety ratings intersect? What is the safest car seat with the least chemicals that is also easy to install and use?

Most car seat safety sources emphasize that the safest car seat is one that fits your car, fits your child, and is properly installed. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) cites improper installation as the primary cause of injuries when a child in a car seat is in an accident. It is of vital importance to make sure your child is the proper weight and height for your car seat.

Two Steps You Can Take for Car Seat Safety

Get a car seat safety check: Have you had your car seat installation checked out? It’s free, and a nice confirmation for new parents that they did it right. Find a location near you HERE or HERE.

Keep kids rear-facing until age two: Also keep in mind that although the NHTSA requires that all children under one year remain rear-facing, the latest guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that children face backwards until two years old, as they are five times less likely to be injured in that position.

Finding a Safe Car Seat

I crossed the toxicity results with three other sources of safety ratings and reviews:

1. ConsumerSearch.com, where the ratings are based on positive consumer reviews around the web, general “likes”, and ease of use and installation.

2. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which uses a 5-star system to rank labels, instructions, securing the child, installation, and overall ease of use. I focused on the latter three categories.

3. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), where they rated safe fits for big kid boosters, testing to see which ones make the shoulder belt land in a safe position on children ages 4-8 in nearly any vehicle: see the full list here.

The Safest, Greenest, Healthiest, Easiest to Use Car Seats

(Which will still probably result in some serious grumpiness the first few times you install them, if you’re anything like my husband…)

INFANT SEATS

safe infant car seat - chicco key fit 30

source: NHTSA

The Graco Snug Ride is the top pick at ConsumerSearch.com, but watch your style and colors: least toxic if 35 in Laguna Bay or Combi Shuttle 33 in Cranberry Noche, most toxic if 35 in Edgemont Red/Black or 30 in Asprey.

NHTSA gives all styles 3 stars in “overall ease of use” and 4 stars for “installation features.”

The Chicco KeyFit 30 (to the left) is a runner up at ConsumerSearch.com, among the 3 least toxic at HealthyStuff.org, AND received 4 and 5 stars from NHTSA.

Safety 1st’s OnBoard Air 35 (in clearwater) is among the least toxic and also a runner up at ConsumerSearch.com, but it only received 3 and 4 stars at NHTSA.

Note: only two infant seats ranked 5 stars for “securing the child” OR “overall ease of use”: the Evenflo Serenade and The First Years Via, neither of which were tested for toxicity at all.

The simplest, greenest, safest infant seat? Chicco KeyFit 30.

CONVERTIBLE CAR SEATS

Graco MyRide safe convertible car seat

source: NHTSA

Graco MyRide (left) hits home as among the least toxic (Chandler and Streamer) and also a runner up at ConsumerSearch.com. The NHTSA ranks 4 stars for “ease of use” and between 2 and 5 stars in the other categories, depending on which style you need.

The Britax Marathon 70 is ConsumerSearch.com’s top pick, BUT (in Jet Set) it’s the most toxic convertible as well.

The First Years Tru Fit (Premier) is the ONLY convertible seat (below) to get 5 stars for “ease of use” (my husband is not surprised), ranks medium toxicity, and is a runner up at ConsumerSearch.com.


The First Years Tru Fit safe convertible car seat

source: NHTSA

Sunshine Kids Radian65SL is the best compact convertible at ConsumerSearch.com and is one of only a handful to test “none” for toxicity (in champagne). However, while the forward-facing style rates average at 3 and 4 stars at NHTSA, the rear-facing is alarming at only 1 and 2 stars. No wonder it seems impossible to find the right car seat for your child!

The simplest, greenest, safest convertible car seat? Graco MyRide or The First Years Tru Fit. You have to prioritize what kind of “safe” you want on this one.

BOOSTER SEATS

Graco Turbo Booster safest booster car seat

source: NHTSA

The best overall pick for “least toxic” is also rated tops at IIHS (highback version), is number one on the list at ConsumerSearch.com: the Graco Turbo Booster (in Anders for least toxic, left). It only got 2 stars in “securing the child” from the NHTSA, but 3, 4 and 5 stars in “installation features” and “overall ease of use.”

The boosters to receive 5 stars at NHTSA include: Compass B505 (medium toxicity in Pistachio), Evenflo Big Kid (medium toxicity), and about five others not tested for toxicity.

The simplest, greenest, safest booster? Graco Turbo Booster in Anders.

Take Action

It’s really a shame that this article had to be written at all, don’t you think? The fact that toxic chemicals are showing up in car seats, where infants and toddlers spent countless hours, is deplorable. If a few seats can test in with zero toxicity, they all should be made that way.

The Alliance for Toxic-Free Fire Safety and HealthyStuff.org are now asking the largest car seat retailers, Graco and Evenflo, to take leadership to disclose and phase out hazardous chemical flame retardant additives. You can sign the petition to Graco and Evenflo at HealthyStuff.org.

It’s a small step, but definitely one in the right direction.

Do Your Own Research

If you’ve got a car seat and wonder about its ratings or are shopping for one and want to cross reference the sources I used, here they all are:

And remember, the bottom line is that all car seats passed crash tests sufficiently. The safest seat for your child is the one that is installed correctly. Be sure to read the instructions and find a seat that you can handle well. And after you install it, get it checked out by a professional.

What weight do you place on toxins vs. safety ratings?

Katie Kimball has been “green” since 5th grade when she read 50 Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth. She remains slightly disappointed that she didn’t actually save the whole thing back then, but now that she has 3 kiddos counting on her, she keeps plugging away hopefully. Katie blogs at Kitchen Stewardship about real food and natural living and is the author of Healthy Snacks to Go and other eBooks, available for Kindle.