Health and Wellness Archive

Is Your Carseat Toxic? Don’t Panic!


You’ve probably already seen the headlines.  “Hazardous Flame Retardants and Chemical Additives Found in Over Half of 2011 Child Car Seats…”

I almost hesitate to link to the article or mention the organization that did the tests, because the study seems very incomplete.  It provides little information on their methods, it doesn’t mention if they have correlated these findings to actual exposure/poisoning risk, and it also doesn’t even mention how they propose these chemicals are being introduced to children.  The same was true the last time they did such testing and the new results appear to have the same flaws.

After all, your child doesn’t drink or eat using a carseat, the two most likely methods for exposure.  The skin of the arms and legs often contact the fabric cover and the child could possibly chew on a harness system component, but other than that, there simply isn’t much direct contact to the shell plastics, metals and other components.  A more likely method is that some of these chemicals could be released into the air and inhaled, but the press release doesn’t discuss this in any way.  Plus, similar chemicals are likely to be in vehicle upholstery and interior components anyway.

The reality is that all of these chemicals are present in many household items that your child can contact.  Silverware, appliances, many pajamas, furniture upholstery, carpeting (and other flame retardant fabrics) and lots of other common products.  The question is this: can the chemical be leeched from the product at all and if so, is it likely for it to be ingested or absorbed in a quantity large enough to cause an exposure issue?  The answer for many items is simply “No”. 

Of course, I don’t have the answer in regard to carseats, but it doesn’t appear the study provides any useful information on this, either.  That is because the study only seems to discuss the mere presence of chemicals based on their testing.  The presence of a toxic chemical is only one requirement for exposure.  The study doesn’t discuss at all if these chemicals can migrate out of the materials in question or if there is a possible method in which enough exposure would result in any real risk to a child.  Without this information, the results seem nearly useless to me.

Plus, the study even admits that it, “…did not test for all hazardous flame retardants, particularly chlorinated flame retardants (CFRs), and seats may contain other chemical hazards.”   So, they blatantly ignored non-Bromine based flame retardants based on Chlorine that can also be toxic, even though they list Chlorine as a hazard elsewhere in the study.  That seems quite incomplete and potentially very biased, because nearly all carseat cover fabrics are treated to meet the required federal flame retardant standard.  (A few, like Orbit Baby in their G2 products, use Oeko-Tex certified fabrics that apparently do not use chlorinated or brominated flame retardant treatments).

Given that this study on carseats does not appear to have been published and peer-reviewed in a respected scientific or medical journal, I would be very hesitant to use it as a basis for a purchase of a child safety seat.   Sadly, some of the headlines today do misleadingly mention a peer-reviewed study.  That study is related to flame retardants in general, and again, it only addresses their existence in products like foam, not the actual exposure or risk.  Interestingly, that peer-reviewed study discusses the toxic risk of chlorinated flame retardants in detail, even though this carseat study claims that it did not measure for them at all!  Also, there is no independent verification of results.  Many carseats and covers, especially infant seats, are produced in the same few factories in China and the Far East.  If I was concerned about chemicals, I would also be wondering why some models from the same manufacturer tested one way, while nearly identical models made in the same facility had different results.

What we do know for certain is that motor vehicle crashes remain a top killer of children 1-14 years old.   Parents should still purchase a carseat based on how well it fits their child, fits their vehicle and how easy it is to use correctly on each trip.  I don’t want to diminish the risk of toxic chemicals to children.  I am concerned about them, too.  There may indeed be a risk to children from chemicals in car seats (and many children’s products), but this study seems completely inadequate to specify those risks.  Personally, for me to make a choice based on the presence of such chemicals, this study would have to go a lot farther and not have the flaws I described.

If you are concerned about the flame retardant chemicals present in nearly all carseat covers, there are a couple simple alternatives.  When you buy a carseat, let it sit outside in the sun for a few days.  That will allow for the most volatile chemicals to outgas before being enclosed in the car.  Next, washing/scrubbing with certain cleaners can help reduce or remove the flame retardant present in the fabric cover.  Of course, this may be contrary to some manufacturer’s washing instructions and, if so, could possibly ruin your cover.  It will certainly diminish the ability of the fabric to resist burning, causing a real risk to a child in a serious crash if fire is present.  Ultimately, like everything, it’s a tradeoff.  The very small, but very real risk of serious burns vs. an unspecified risk due to a possible chemical exposure indicated by an incomplete and questionable study.  It’s another tough choice for a parent, but I do not believe it is any cause for the panic many media outlets are creating.  Please leave us a comment and let us know which you would choose!

For those still interested to see the press release, you may find it here.

Guest Blog: Burning Down the House


Earlier this week I inadvertently created a plume of green toxic smoke in my kitchen. As fun and interesting as that sounds, it’s not actually the topic of this post. It did, however, lead someone to remind me about the time I left carrots cooking on the stove while I ran some errands. I realized that we, understandably, spend a lot of time talking about the number-one killer of children (car accidents), so why not also take a minute to talk about the number-one cause of residential fires (unattended cooking)?

Now of course I didn’t intend to leave my carrots on the stove. I had planned on running to the craft store and then out to dinner, so I put some carrots on the stove to boil for my one-year-old to chomp on at the restaurant. I set the timer and went to do some other things.

Why Rear-Facing Is Better: Your RF Link Guide


Here’s a list of concrete reasons why we recommend rear-facing past age 1 and 20 lbs.  That old recommendation that many pediatricians still hold onto stresses the bare minimums of when to turn a child forward-facing.  Who wants the minimum for their child?  It’s best practice to rear-face to the limits of the child’s convertible carseat: check the label for the rear-facing weight limit and make sure there’s at least 1″ of carseat above the top of his head.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended since 2002 that after age 1 and 20 lbs., children should ride in a rear-facing convertible seat until reaching the weight limit of that carseat. They’ve just amended that policy (3/2011) to recommend rear-facing to age 2 or until they reach the “highest weight or height allowed” by that convertible carseat.  (

Helping your child cope after a crash


crash sceneHundreds of thousands of children are involved in MVCs (Motor Vehicle Crashes) each year. The lucky ones, and the ones who are optimally restrained in an appropriate safety seat, may walk away with nothing more than bumps, bruises and a good scare.  Depending on the circumstances, others may not be so lucky. But regardless of whether the child was injured or not, being involved in a crash can be a terrifying ordeal for children. As someone who has survived two bad crashes, I can attest to how terrifying it really is – even for an adult. Unfortunately, I also understand that the fear and terror of the event don’t always fade away when the bruises do. It’s so important for parents and caregivers to be on the lookout for signs of traumatic stress in the weeks (and even months) following a crash. A little anxiety, maybe a few nightmares and some generally clinginess after the accident is very common and should be expected. It’s also common (and understandable) for the child to be reluctant to get back in the car.  However, since walking everywhere isn’t an option for most parents – this can be a real dilemma. We need to respect our children’s fears and emotions, and we certainly don’t want to traumatize them any further, but we also need them to get back in the car. For children who are non-verbal or have limited communication skills, it can be even trickier to address the underlying issues and calm their fears.  

Since every child and every set of circumstances is different, no one can claim to have all the magic answers. However, this wonderful website from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) can provide much needed information and guidance to help children after a traumatic event or injury. It can also help parents to differentiate between typical, normal reactions and those that may be a red flag indicative of traumatic stress. I’m so pleased that this site exists now. I believe it’s an area that really needs more attention and parents need more and better ways to support their children in the emotional healing process after a crash.