In the last few years, child car seat makers have made a big shift in which chemicals they use in their products, a change brought about by consumer pressure and legislation cracking down on toxics in other goods.
HealthyStuff.org tests products like toys, pet goods, handbags and cars, rating them on the presence of lead, PVC, brominated flame retardants and other chemicals connected to health, development and behavioral problems.
Since 2008, said HealthyStuff.org research director Jeff Gearhart, the average car seat score has improved 64 percent. And the number of car seats with brominated flame retardants went down 18 percent.
The car seats results weren’t all good news. Although some car seats contained none of the chemicals HealthyStuff.org looks for, more than 60 percent had at least one chemical in question.
A number of factors come into play with company decisions around what chemicals, and how much of them, to use in products. But Gearhart said in this case, it’s more a result of market pressure from consumer being more informed and seeking safer goods.
“I would say there is a not-so-quiet consumer revolution going on with people interested in healthy products, particularly with products designed for children,” he said. “I think any companies manufacturing products in that area have recognized that and they’ve become more responsive to these issues.”
Consumer pressure, in turn, is being driven by more research being done on chemicals, their effects and how they get from products into people and the environment.
It’s a similar situation to what’s happened with bisphenol A (BPA), the estrogen-mimicking chemical that retailers and companies started pulling from products before there was even any legislation forcing it out. Such a racket was raised over the potential impacts of the chemicals that big names like Walmart, Toys R Us and Nalgene pledged to remove it from products or no longer carry certain goods — mainly baby products — that contain BPA.
What followed has been a mix of laws at state and local levels banning BPA from various products.
“The amount of legislative activity, particularly on the state level has had a major impact,” Gearhart said. “That activity has only been increasing over the past five years.”
While laws on BPA don’t specifically address toxics in car seats, BPA’s not the only chemical on the radars of lawmakers. So far this year seven states have passed nine policies on chemicals. Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland and Massachusetts sets various bans on BPA in baby bottles, receipt paper, food storage containers and other goods, according to the Safer States network.
But while market pressure has resulted in some of the quickest changes, Gearhart said he is holding out for an overhaul of the U.S. toxics laws, which currently require government to prove chemicals are dangerous before they can be regulated instead of requiring manufacturers to show they are safe, which many reformers would like to see.
“Ultimately we need a regulatory system in place that is going to address proactively synthetic chemicals in consumer products,” he said. “But it’s clear consumers are not going to wait for that to happen.”