What's the best car seat to buy? It's a complicated question, as the marketplace is changing rapidly. Parents are realizing that just keeping their children safe in a crash isn't the end-all, be-all of car seats. We also need to think about the long-term implications of exposing our kids to the toxic chemicals the seats can be made with.
You can't just buy because you like a brand. For example, Orbit has been a leader in creating less toxic products, eschewing the use of brominated flame retardants while still meeting required TB117 safety standards and using internationally recognized Oeko-Tex certified fabrics.
But an early version of their Orbit Infant System failed Consumer Reports testing after the seat detached from its base; in 2010, Consumer Reports announced that the updated Orbit products passed their crash tests.
Healthy Stuff did a break down of best and worst car seats in 2011, in which they rated brands and models according to detectable levels of chemicals.
Graco's Turbo Booster was Healthy Stuff's best pick, but the company's My Ride 65 was also ranked one of the worst. Although in 2012, the company did commit to phase out of four of the most toxic chemical flame retardants from all of their products -- including "Tris" chemicals TDCPP, TCEP, TCPP and Firemaster 550, all of which are carcinogens or suspected carcinogens -- so these rankings may change.
Healthy Stuff tested for bromine, a hallmark of brominated flame retardants that have been linked to neurological and reproductive problems, among other health issues.
They also assessed levels of chlorine, which is associated with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) that contains phthalates. Even low levels of phthalates have been linked to birth defects, obesity and asthma.
Finally, they looked at lead, which is often added to plastic, paint and metal. Lead is a serious neurotoxin linked with learning and behavioral problems.
But the one thing they didn't assess was safety.
What this means is when you're picking a car seat, you need to first look at the ones in your price range that meet your safety standards, and then research the brand and model for potential toxicity.
It's a lot of work, but doing so can protect the health and safety of your baby -- both inside and out.