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Scientists Find Toxic Flame Retardants in New Car Seats

Here's what it means for parents.


In a recent study, researchers found that the majority of new children’s car seats contained potentially hazardous flame retardants. According to scientists at Indiana University, 15 of the 18 car seats that were tested contained flame retardant chemicals that are thought to cause negative health effects in children.

It’s a finding that’s concerning parents and scientists alike. “New replacement flame retardants, often marketed as safer alternatives, are lurking in children’s products without rigorous safety testing and may pose risks for children’s health,” said coauthor on the study Marta Venier of IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, in a statement.

“The key role these products play as potential sources of chemical exposure is a cause for concern.”

Under Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 302, children’s car seats must meet the same flammability requirements that car interiors do, which is usually achieved with flame retardants. While not much is known about the health repercussions of the exact flame retardant chemicals that were found in the seats (like cyclic phosphonate esters (PMMMPs)), scientists are concerned that they can be toxic to kids, even causing hormone and brain development issues. Not only can children breathe in the chemicals, particularly in the summer when it’s warm inside the car, they can also absorb the chemicals through their skin or by chewing on the seat.

“Car seats are vital for protecting children during a vehicle crash,” coauthor on the study Yan Wu, also of IU, cautioned in the statement. “But more research is needed to ensure that those seats are chemically safe as well.”

What does this mean for parents? Well, because the authors of this study didn’t reveal which car seats might contain toxic chemicals, it’s not a simple issue of avoiding one brand of car seat over another. Instead, there’s a simple rule of thumb to follow to minimize your child’s (possible) exposure to said chemicals: limit the amount of time they spend in the car, in general. But then again, smart parents probably already know that.