New Study Reveals Toxic Chemicals in Most Children’s Car Seats

Media Contacts
Emily Scarr

State Director, Maryland PIRG; Director, Stop Toxic PFAS Campaign, PIRG

Good news: Three Companies Now Produce Car Seats Without Toxic Flame Retardants

Maryland PIRG Foundation and Ecology Center

DECEMBER 4, 2018—BALTIMORE –  Today, Maryland PIRG Foundation released a new report from the Ecology Center’s Healthy Stuff program: Hidden Hazards: Flame Retardants and PFAS in Children’s Car Seats. 

Toxic flame retardant chemicals used in children’s car seats can harm major systems in the body, including the hormone, developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune systems. These chemicals pose the greatest risk to babies while their organs are still developing (prenatal and postnatal). Exposures to toxic flame retardants have been associated with an array of negative health effects including reduced IQ, developmental delays, autism, hormone disruption, reproductive harm, obesity and cancer. 

“These chemicals are not protective in the incidence of fire, so there is simply no good reason to add them to our children’s car seats, or any consumer products for that matter,” explained Maryland PIRG Organizer Kyanna Cadwallader.  “Manufacturers, retailers, legislators, and regulators should move to phase out these toxic chemicals once and for all.”

Testing confirmed that three companies now offer a car seat that does not contain added toxic flame retardant chemicals, which include: UPPAbaby MESA – Jordan and Henry models (infant), Clek Fllo – Mammoth (convertible), and Nuna Pipa Lite – Fog (infant). 

Maryland legislators have restricted several chemical flame retardants in baby products; however, the Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission has recommended a broader approach to phase out the entire class of brominated flame retardant chemicals from children’s products and furniture instead of addressing the chemicals one by one.

“As a new mom, I’m thrilled there are growing options for flame retardant free car seats,” said Emily Scarr, a Baltimore mother of 1 year-old. “You shouldn’t have to be a scientist to shop for your kids and I hope someday soon these chemicals will just be a bad memory.” 

This year’s study from the Ecology Center shows there are fewer car seats with brominated flame retardants than in previous years. However, there is an increase in the use of phosphorus-based flame retardants. “The switch from brominated to phosphorus-based flame retardants isn’t necessarily a move to safer chemistry,” explains Gillian Miller, Senior Scientist at Ecology Center. “Several commonly-used phosphorus-based flame retardants show significant endocrine and developmental toxicity and also are persistent in our environment.” 

Ecology Center’s study concludes the use of hazardous chemicals in most car seat brands is driven by outdated federal flammability regulations. Children’s car seats are included in the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s flame standard for vehicles, FMVSS 302, originally created in the 1970s. The government has never fully evaluated the effectiveness of the flammability standard for children’s car seats. Many experts suggest FMVSS 302 is not relevant to real-world fire scenarios in cars. 

“Companies should be allowed to test their products using an appropriate alternative standard that accounts for realistic fire safety without unnecessary exposures to chemical hazards,” says Gillian Miller, Senior Scientist at Ecology Center. 

Public health groups from across the country are united in a national effort to update the government’s decades-old flammability standards, by publicly calling for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to update their flammability standards in this petition, allowing more parents the ability to purchase toxic-free car seats.


The Healthy Stuff study tested 18 children’s car seats including infant and convertible models. 80% (15) of the seats contained hazardous flame retardant chemical additives and 50% (9) likely contained hazardous PFAS (per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances) chemicals on the fabric. All seats tested were purchased in 2018 and manufactured in 2017 or later. Components in each seat were analyzed using multiple methods: chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry at Indiana University, tests for total fluorine content at the University of Notre Dame, and X-Ray Fluorescence and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy at the Ecology CenterEach seat was cut apart in order to test components individually. 

Ecology Center’s testing included a screening for fluorinated chemicals and found them in 50% (9 out of 18) of the car seats tested. The chemicals found are most likely PFASs (per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances) which are added by choice by manufacturers for their stain-resistant properties. 

“The entire class of PFAS chemicals are very persistent in the environment. Studies have shown them to be hazardous chemicals that should not be used in children’s products,” says Graham Peaslee, Researcher and Professor of Experimental Nuclear Physics at the University of Notre Dame. “There are safer alternatives available. Not only are children in close contact with these seat fabrics when they are young, but also when these seat covers are discarded. 100% of these PFASs are going to be released into our environment and could end up in drinking water later.”

Exposure to PFAS chemicals is associated with an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes, liver disorders, high cholesterol, and cancer as well as other adverse health effects. High amounts of PFASs have been found in drinking water supplies in towns and cities across the country, causing closures of wells and municipal water supplies. 

Testing confirmed that three companies now offer a car seat that does not contain added flame retardant chemicals, which include: UPPAbaby MESA – Jordan and Henry models (infant), Clek Fllo – Mammoth (convertible), and Nuna Pipa Lite – Fog (infant). “UPPAbaby developed the first naturally fire retardant car seat because our passionate consumer base wanted a natural alternative. So, I challenged our R&D team to come up with something that had never been done before,” says Bob Monahan, CEO of UPPAbaby. “I believe that through innovation, businesses can be a driver to provide parents with options and healthier safer products.” 

Ecology Center collaborated with researchers from Indiana University and the University of Notre Dame to incorporate detailed analytical results into the Healthy Stuff report as well as for publication, released today, in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters. The peer-reviewed letter is the first-ever report in scientific literature of the presence of a new flame retardant chemical in child car seats in North America.