New Study Found Toxic Chemicals in Car Seats

By Kathleen Schuler

The Ecology Center and Healthy Stuff just released their latest research on toxic chemicals in children’s car seats. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of seats tested contained hazardous halogenated flame retardants (those with bromine or chlorine) and over half contained non-halogenated phosphate flame retardants, some of which may also be hazardous.  Five of the car seats tested contained chemicals recently banned by the Minnesota legislature.

Should parents be worried?
Yes, a little. The main reason parents use car seats, aside from the fact that they’re required by law, is to protect their little ones, in case of an accident. So conscientious parents look up safety ratings for car sets before they buy. Fewer parents are aware of the fact that these very same car seats could contain toxic chemicals linked to thyroid problems, learning and memory impairment, decreased fertility, behavioral changes and cancer.

There’s no doubt that babies and young children can spend hours every week in a car seat, so we need to make sure that the car environment is as safe as possible for kids. Manufacturers add chemical flame retardants to the fabric covering and/or foam in the car seat to meet fire safety requirements. Added flame retardant chemicals are not chemically bound to the car seat materials and are thus released over time. Infants, toddlers and children can be exposed through inhalation, ingestion and dermal (skin) absorption of these chemicals. Heat and UV-ray exposure in cars can accelerate the release of these chemicals from products into the vehicle interior.

What Healthy Stuff Found
Healthy Stuff tested fifteen 2014-model car seats for various hazardous chemicals, including bromine, chlorine, lead and other heavy metals. They then rated the car seats regarding the presence of toxic chemicals. Car seat rankings and chemical test results are available at  Top rated companies in the study, Britax and Clek, have employed green engineering solutions to reduce hazards in their products while still meeting all safety standards.  Britax has eliminated all halogenated flame retardants and none of the chemicals tested were found in the Clek products.

The Graco My Size 65 convertible model rated dead last of all the products tested. The rating is based on the hazard rating of the chemical used, the company’s policy on phasing out halogenated chemicals, and whether the chemicals were present in multiple materials and components of the product. The Graco rating was very upsetting to me personally because that was the very model I had bought for my grandson last January. I chose that brand and model because of the great safety and customer ratings, good
price and also because Graco had pledged in 2012 to eliminate the use of Tris and Firemaster 550 chemicals in their products. According to this study, they are now using other chemicals of concern, HBCD, TBC and UBC. Ask Graco to pledge to disclose and phase out hazardous chemical flame retardant additives and follow through on their plan. Sign the petition to Graco at

Not Needed for Fire Safety
Car seat manufacturers are required to meet the same federal fire test standards that apply to car interiors. The report recommends updating fire safety standards to account for real life conditions, citing the fact that chemical flame retardants in car seats delay ignition by only a few seconds. This does not provide meaningful protection when the engine caches fire, as it takes two minutes for the passenger compartment to fill with smoke and up to five minutes for the vehicle to catch fire. Non-toxic engineering approaches to both prevent and suppress vehicle fires are recommended.  The best rated car seats in this study meet fire safety standards  without toxic chemicals.

Regulated in Minnesota
Five of the car seats in this study would be banned in 2018 in Minnesota under the Firefighter and Children Health Protection Act* because they contain HBCD or TDCPP in a children’s product. Four of the car seats tested contained a chlorinated tris chemical, either TDCPP or TCPP. TDCPP was banned from children’s sleepwear in 1976 because it was found to be mutagenic and linked to cancer. HBCD, the other banned chemical was found in three of the car seats in this study. Governor Dayton recently signed this bill that also bans two additional toxic flame retardants (deca-BDE and TCEP) in children’s products and upholstered furniture. Deca-BDE was not found in car seats tested in this study and testing for TCEP was not included in the study. (*Car seats with levels of TDCPP and HBCD exceeding 1000 parts per million would be prohibited from sale in Minnesota on July 1, 2018. Retailers may sell existing stock until July 1, 2019.)

Another bill that did not pass in the Minnesota 2015 session was the Toxic Free Kids Act (TFKA). It would have required that manufacturers report priority chemicals in children’s products that the Minnesota Department of Health has determined are hazardous and likely to expose children, including two of the chemicals in this study (deca-BDE and HBCD).  If it had passed, TFKA would have empowered state agencies to provide information to parents on nine priority chemicals in kids products so they could purchase products for their children that protect their safety without unnecessarily exposing them to toxic chemicals.

What’s a parent to do?
First of all, your child’s safety in a moving vehicle is the top priority. Keep using your car seat, regardless of how it was rated in this study. HealthyStuff recommends the following:

  • When purchasing a car seat, look for companies that have comprehensive chemical policies. is a good resource for car seat ratings, though all models have not been tested.
  •  Limit your child’s time in a car seat. Use your car seat only for travel, not for napping on home use.
  • Limit direct sunlight on the car seat and high temperatures, because more chemicals are released in a hot car. Park in the shade or in a covered parking area whenever possible.  
  • Vacuum the interior of your car and the car seat frequently to eliminate dust particles to which chemical flame retardants cling. Also open car windows when possible.
  • Back to that Graco car seat I bought for my grandson, I’ve added another precaution.
  • If you own a car seat that was rated poorly in this study, in addition to the above, cover the car seat when sitting in the sun with a thin baby blanket or towel to prevent sunlight degradation. Also to prevent dermal exposure if flame retardants were used in the textile, cover the car seat with a light blanket so baby’s skin is not exposed. It might help and it can’t hurt!



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Phthalates-hazards in flooring and children's products

Kathleen Schuler, MPH, Co-Director Healthy Legacy, Healthy Kids and Families Program Director

Phthalates (pronounced “THAL-ates”) are a class of chemical plasticizers that are widely used in commerce. Phthalates are often added to vinyl (PVC) plastic to make it softer and more flexible. Vinyl products containing phthalates include flexible tubing, IV bags, shower curtains, purses, older toys, pet toys, food packaging, backpacks, wallpaper, flooring, electrical wire coatings, raincoats, clothing embellishments and more. Phthalates are also added to personal care products and cleaners as fragrance binders. 

Since phthalates are used in so many consumer products, it’s not surprising that we are exposed to phthalates every day in our own homes through food, indoor air, household dust and direct contact with products. Pretty much everyone has phthalates in their body. The Centers for Disease Control’s biomonitoring program has detected phthalates in nearly everyone tested, with women and children aged 6-11 having the highest levels.

Health risks from exposure to phthalates

Phthalates are hormone-disrupting chemicals that can impact health at very low doses, putting fetuses and young children at highest risk. Because phthalates are anti-androgenic (they suppress testosterone) the male reproductive system is a target for adverse effects, including altered sex hormone level, altered genital development, and low sperm count and quality. Effects in females include reduced fertility and increased risk for preterm birth and low birth weight. Exposure also impacts learning and behavior. A new study documents reduced IQ at age 7 associated with prenatal exposure to phthalates.  The phthalate di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) is of particular concern, as it is a possible human carcinogen, affecting the liver. Exposure is associated with liver and thyroid toxicity, reproductive abnormalities and adverse effects on the respiratory system, including asthma.

Phthalates in flooring

Vinyl flooring is a product that can contribute to higher levels of phthalates in the home. Phthalates can migrate out of flooring and get into house dust. New testing data released today by Healthy Stuff identified phthalates in 58% of vinyl floor tiles sampled. Fortunately there are safer alternatives available, including phthalate-free vinyl flooring and non-vinyl flooring alternatives. The Home Depot has announced that they will phase out phthalates in vinyl flooring they sell by the end of this year and Lumber Liquidators has also committed to phasing out phthalates in vinyl flooring. It’s great news that these market leaders are taking steps to protect families. 

Phthalates in children’s products

In addition to flooring, regulatory gaps allow the continued use of phthalates in a variety of children’s products. Federal law bans several phthalates in toys and child care articles (DEHP, BBP, DBP) and provisionally bans others (DINP, DIDP, DnOP). The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission recently released proposed permanent regulations on phthalates, based on the recommendations of an expert science panel. But federal laws do not cover all children’s products. Phthalates are still being used in children’s clothing, footwear, tableware, arts and crafts materials, toys and games, baby care products, kids cosmetics, as well as food packaging and personal care products that contain fragrance. 

Chemical reporting needed in Minnesota

The Minnesota Department of Health has designated nine priority chemicals as harmful and likely to expose children, including three phthalates: BBP, DBP and DEHP, routinely found in the children’s products mentioned. However, parents are not going to find these chemical names on the label. That’s why we need to pass the Toxic Free Kids Act of 2015 (TFKA), which requires that manufacturers report if they are using any of these three phthalates or any of the other priority chemicals. TFKA would allow state agencies to provide accessible information for parents who want to avoid these chemicals in products they buy for their children.  

Please contact your legislator and ask him or her to support the Toxic Free Kids Act to protect Minnesota kids from unnecessary exposure to hazardous chemicals

Reduce your family’s exposure to phthalates:

  • Avoid perfumes and scented personal care products and cleaning products with added fragrance.
  • Find alternatives to vinyl products, including shower curtains, school supplies, purses and toys, which may contain phthalates.
  • Limit plastic products and avoiding vinyl (PVC #3) plastic, which can contain phthalates or lead.
  • Avoid secondhand toys and baby products, which might contain lead or phthalates banned in new products.
  • When remodeling, avoid use of vinyl wallpaper and flooring.

TSCA Reform- We aren't there yet

By Kathleen Schuler, MPH, Co-Director Healthy Legacy, Director Healthy Kids and Families Program Conservation Minnesota

Healthy Legacy and our national coalition, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families have been working for years to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the toothless law that’s supposed to be protecting public health and the environment from toxic chemicals. While TSCA reform proposals have come and gone, states have been busy passing laws to protect their citizens. In the past ten years, 34 states have passed over 200 laws restricting chemicals. Enter the Udall-Vitter bill, the most recent attempt at reforming TSCA. 

I’d love to say the Vitter-Udall is the ticket to reforming TSCA. Unfortunately, it’s not. While it improves on current law in a few areas, it is worse in other areas. The glacial pace of chemical review and preemption of timely state actions to protect citizens are key weaknesses in the bill. This bill falls short of meaningful reform that truly protects public health.  To highlight the biggest problems with the bill:

Right now there are 84,000 chemicals on the TSCA inventory, of which about half are widely used in commerce. Vitter-Udall provides for EPA to address only 10chemicals in five to seven years, a drop in the bucket. States would not be permitted to take action on a priority chemical during this time.

Under current TSCA states are free to take action on chemicals, when EPA has not done so. Under Vitter-Udall current state chemical policies would not be preempted, which is good, but future actions would be significantly curtailed. States would be prohibited from acting on a high priority chemical the minute that EPA puts it on their list, instead of when EPA makes a final determination, which could take up to seven years. For a more extensive analysis of state preemption in the bill.

In addition to designating high priority chemicals, the bill allows EPA to set aside without assessment low priority chemicals “likely to meet” the safety standard. Hundreds of chemicals could be set aside as safe, with no incentive or requirement to reevaluate their safety. That would be bad enough, but these decisions cannot even be challenged in court. According to Andy Igrejas, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families: 

Public health groups have made the modest proposal that since industry will be able to sue over EPA decisions to declare a chemical unsafe, or over EPA’s choice of restrictions, the public should be able to get a court to review the quality of these hall passes. Make sure nothing dangerous gets a free ride. The response has been “no.” It’s a “deal-killer” for industry. Apparently, whoever it is that knows what “likely to” means must have big plans for this part of the bill. Sounds sketchy to me.”

 Vitter-Udall also makes it harder than current law for EPA to regulate chemicals in products and chemicals of concern in imports.  Read more about details on the flaws in the Vitter-Udall bill.

Neither Senator Franken, nor Senator Klobuchar are original cosponsors of Vitter-Udall.  Please thank them for not signing on to the bill and urge them not to support the bill until these key flaws are fixed. We need TSCA reform, but we need to get it right to really protect Minnesota families and families across the country.  

The American Chemistry Council has endorsed the Vitter-Udall chemical reform bill, which is not surprising, given the erosion of state authority and the slow pace of chemical assessment. While this bill might be the ticket for the chemical industry, the public health community must declare “we’re not there yet.”


Hey Babies “R” Us - We’re Waiting

Hey Babies “R” Us - We’re Waiting

Kathleen Schuler, MPH, Co-Director Healthy Legacy

Getting Ready for Baby, a national campaign to promote baby products without toxic chemicals issued a new report today, What We Expect When We’re Expecting. 

The report examines corporate policies to  eliminate chemicals of concern in products sold by two big box baby retailers that many parents and parents-to-be rely on for their baby needs- buybuy Baby and Babies“R”Us.


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