“Which Car Seat Do You Use Now?”
Why? Well, as a reporter, I avoid endorsing products. If you’ve seen our car seat coverage, you also know that at least one car seat we believed to be free of the most concerning chemicals was not.
But most importantly, many green companies admit that, at best, they are spot checking their products or relying on test results from suppliers. There is no guarantee that they even know what you’re getting.
In fact, when we first discovered that the Orbit Baby G2 car seat tested positive for a chemical “known to cause cancer” despite its green advertising claims, Arlene Blum of the Green Science Policy Institute gave Orbit the benefit of the doubt. “People who make products can’t even find out what is in their products … I mean I think Orbit means well, but they just don’t know what’s in their products,” Blum explained.
With so many suppliers and so much room for human error, products from even the best-intentioned companies have tested positive for some of the most concerning chemicals. Frankly, it’s really how they respond to those mistakes that counts.
Here We Go Again
After receiving the first positive test results for my daughter’s Orbit Baby car seats in January 2016, I jumped through hoops and consulted every expert in my ‘NewsMom’ arsenal to ensure that her replacement car seat was free of the most concerning flame retardant chemicals, or at the very least, free of TDCPP.
TDCPP, or Chlorinated Tris, was removed from children’s pajamas in the ’70s and is now listed as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization and is on California’s list of known cancer-causing chemicals. It’s also found in kids’ car seats, furniture and inside children themselves.
As of January 2016, all signs for me pointed to the Clek Foonf car seat as my best TDCPP-free replacement option.
The same Ecology Center study, which initially tipped me off to Tris in the Orbit Baby car seat, ranked Clek near the top of its list of “green” car seats, citing “green engineering solutions that reduce the need for added flame retardants.”
Clek’s website also advertised that, as of 2014, its Crypton fabric car seats were “officially free of bromine and chlorine-based flame retardants.”
Still, I was skeptical. Like most manufacturers, Clek does not disclose which chemical flame retardants it uses to meet federal flammability regulations.
While car seat manufacturers are not required by law to disclose which chemicals they use, federal law does require they pass an open-flame test that ostensibly requires they use flame retardants. Some commonly used flame retardants have been linked to serious health effects, and the long-term effects of others is largely unknown.
The Ecology Center test did not reveal which flame retardants it found in the Clek, it only indicated that the car seat did not test positive for the most concerning “known” flame retardants.
However, I had an inside source. Clek had “opened its books,” so to speak, to a green retailer I knew. She said she had seen Clek’s own test results and she felt confident that, based on the retardants they were using as of January 2016, Clek was one of the safest (chemically speaking) on the market.
I had also seen various independent test results posted on ‘green mom’ blogs, so I decided that the Clek was my best option. At the very least, I figured the Clek should be free of TDCPP.
I was wrong.
What are the odds?
When I received the Orbit results in January and initially set out to buy a replacement car seat, the stores in our area were sold out of Cleks. It was the beginning of the year, and they were waiting on the new models to come in.
In hindsight, the delay in getting the replacement car seat was a blessing. If we had purchased and used it right away, the TDCPP in the replacement car seat would have impacted the follow-up biomonitoring tests we performed on my daughter.
However, I wish I would have waited longer. Eventually, I ended up purchasing the Clek floor model from a store in another city. It was a 2014 Clek Foonf, manufactured in November of 2013, purchased in 2016.
Now, Clek officially made the move away from bromine and chlorine-based flame retardants in its 2014 models, so my 2014 Foonf Ink model with Crypton fabric should not have had TDCPP.
I’ve now learned that Clek had used some of the remaining 2013 model car seat covers (which apparently contained TDCPP) on some of the 2014 model car seats. Lucky me, I ended up with one of them.
Ironically, if I had waited for the 2016 models to arrive, my daughter’s replacement car seat would have likely been fine.
Different Company, Different Response
When my Clek test results came back positive for TDCPP, I was deflated and prepared to get a response from Clek similar to the one I had received from Orbit Baby.
However, I was pleasantly surprised by Clek’s initial response!
Instead of questioning the accuracy of the positive test results and denying the presence of TDCPP in its car seats, Clek stepped up and immediately agreed to send replacement car seat covers to anyone who may be affected.
In an email, a spokeswoman said that my car seat “was the first (and only) reported case with a Crypton Super Fabric model.” The company has now discovered that several other 2014 models were affected, including 2014 model year Foonf seats with Flamingo, Snowberry, Tank, Dragonfly, Ink, Blue Moon, Shadow, or Tokidoki (Travel, All-Over, Rebel) colors, and Fllo model seats with the Flamingo color manufactured in 2014.
After doing some research, Clek explained in a statement:
“We have learned that a limited quantity of our Clek Foonf 2014 model year products and Clek Fllo Flamingo products manufactured during 2014 may contain fabric covers with chlorinated flame retardants. These Clek products remain appropriate for their intended use. Any customer with one of these Clek products who wishes to receive a new fabric cover free of these flame retardants may contact our customer service team and will be sent a replacement cover free of charge.”
But that’s not all. The company also decided to go one step further and contact consumers who’ve registered affected car seats with the company.
Keep in mind, it is not illegal to sell a car seat with TDCPP. Though, companies do have to post a warning before selling a product that contains the chemical in California. Clek could have also faced false advertising allegations… But bottom line, Clek stepped up and immediately did the “right thing.”
So, Are All Other Cleks TDCPP-Free?
Many believe that all Clek car seats are free of concerning flame retardants. However, the company itself will not make that claim.
Keep in mind, Clek did not officially claim any of its products were officially free of TDCPP until February 2014 when the company issued this press release, initially implying that all “2014 Clek car seats (were) officially free of bromine and chlorine-based flame retardants”
However, nine months later, a mother named Samantha informed the company that her 2014 Clek Foonf with Drift fabric tested positive for TDCPP.
In the midst of this email exchange with Samantha in November of 2014, Clek edited its initial online claims to specify that only its Crypton Super Fabric car seats were free of flame retardants like TDCPP.
Clek’s “Drift” and Leather Fabric models are NOT considered “Crypton Fabrics.”
Clek did not deny the authenticity of the email chain provided by Samantha. However, in response to my questions about the edited claims on its website, Clek stated:
“The press release was edited in November 2014 to be consistent with the advertised product descriptions … which specifically exclude Drift from this claim, or do not make the claim at all when specifically describing only the Drift style.”
The company could not provide me with any “advertised product descriptions” that exclude any car seat models from the flame retardant claims. To my knowledge, Clek has never publicly admitted that their non-Crypton fabric car seats may contain TDCPP or other concerning retardants.
California regulations would require Clek to provide a warning before knowingly selling a product with TDCPP.
When I asked Clek to clarify which, if any, of its models are NOT guaranteed to be “officially free of bromine and chlorine-based flame retardants,” a spokeswoman would only say that “The information describing which styles are Crypton is listed on the model-specific product sections on our website,” adding, “We have provided sufficient information on this issue.”
Bottom line, considering the current issue with 2014 car seats, it now appears that 2015 or later models, with Crypton fabric ONLY, are believed to be “free of bromine and chlorine-based flame retardants.”
After discovering my Clek tested positive for TDCPP, I reached out to members of a ‘green’ mom blog to find out if others had tested their Clek car seats. While not directly related to the current 2014 car seat issue, I quickly began to receive troubling replies from others.
Several complained that they reached out to Clek before choosing their car seat model and say that the company replied with deceptive or evasive responses that caused them to unknowingly purchase a model with the concerning chemicals.
I will share those findings in a follow-up post.
Car seats in cars save lives. The safest place for a child in a moving vehicle is in a rear-facing car seat in the middle of the back seat. None of this information should be interpreted to imply otherwise.
Model years and fabrics matter. If nothing else, this should hammer home the point that car seats vary model to model within the same brand. Just because you’ve heard that a certain model car seat ranks well in a study or tested clean by some blogger, that does not mean that all makes and models of that car seat are equal.
Even the best-intentioned companies are at the mercy of human or factory error. Products from several “green” forward-thinking companies have tested positive for concerning chemicals. It’s how they handle the mistakes that counts.
If you’re concerned about quality or chemicals, in some cases, you can do additional testing on your own. In the case of car seats, furniture, or any products with foam, you can have your foam tested for free at Duke University.
Chemical-Conscious Parents, #StaySane. While there is a concern about the unknown risk of the smorgasbord of chemicals found in our bodies and how they affect us when combined, even in small quantities, you cannot entirely eliminate concerning chemicals from your child’s environment.
Experts say that reducing exposure reduces risk and that every little bit helps. However, it is important to note that the presence of any one toxic chemical in a product (or your child’s body) does not necessarily translate to negative health effects. Do what you can, but don’t drive yourself crazy.
What is the best green car seat? No one knows. Britax, Clek, Nuna and Orbit tend to top most green car seat lists. However, as the positive tests in Orbit and Clek have demonstrated, nothing is guaranteed.
Some ‘green bloggers’ have opted to have organic car seat covers made to replace the ones that come with their car seats, but some car seat safety advocates warn that could impact the crash-worthiness of the seat, which is the primary purpose after all.
How can I buy a car seat without flame retardants? All car seats have flame retardants because they are essentially required by a 1970s motor vehicle regulation, though Halogenated (i.e. chlorinated and brominated) & Organophosphorous flame retardants are believed to be more concerning.
As our KPIX investigation uncovered, fire scientists, and even car seat manufactures, believe the chemicals in car seats are largely irrelevant to fire safety in a real-world car fire. They have urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to update its regulation so that parents have the option to buy a car seat without retardants.
Legislation was recently introduced that would require the agency to do that, but it has gone largely ignored.
The blog Natural Baby Mama has launched an online petition to urge lawmaker support for car seat legislation that, for the first time, would allow parents to purchase car seats without flame retardants.
For a summary of the ongoing investigation into chemicals in car seats, along with additional resources for parents, links to relevant data and documents, responses from lawmakers and editorials by the reporter, see:
What began as a NewsMom editorial, expanded into a 6-month KPIX-CBS investigation exposing alleged false advertising, apparent legal loopholes and outdated federal regulations that systematically expose millions of children to concerning, even known-cancer-causing, chemicals in their car seats.