July 23, 2008 at 3:57PM
by Deirdre Dolan
I fled sweaty Brooklyn for the New Jersey countryside last weekend and returned home Sunday night with fresh farm peaches and a hand-me-down car seat from my friend and host. I love free stuff and have to admit I probably wasnt going to dig too deeply to find out how safe the inherited model was, but then I checked my email and saw that the trusty Ecology Center had just released their second annual car seat toxicity ranking. I went to Healthy Car.org and searched the convertible Britax car seat by model (Marathon Tan Swirl) and was psyched to find it got a pretty low rating for toxicity (0.6). (A very similar seat, the Britax Marathon Onyx, did much worse with a 4.4.)
The non-profit Ecology Center (out of Ann Arbor) is very invested in the struggle for clean air, safe water, healthy communities, and environmental justice, and has included more than 200 of the most popular 2008- 2009 cars and over 60 car seats in their study. The database is exhaustive and easy to peruse, with lists of chemicals, numerical ratings, photos, and explanations of health concerns. The average American spends more than 1.5 hours in cars (gas prices have only reduced driving under 1 percent nationally), so its smart to seriously consider the polluted air inside particularly for kids and their still-developing systems.
The most toxic cars were the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Suzuki Reno and BMW 128i. The most toxic car seats were the Alpha Sport Vantage Booster and the Britax Marathon Onyx. Things are looking a little better on reversing the notion that the new car smell is a good thing though as manufacturers become tuned in to the fact that toxic materials (like bromine, chlorine and lead) have been linked to everything from allergies to birth defects to cancer, and that there are better things to make cars and car seats out of. Mazda and Nissan both got much higher safety rankings than last year, and General Motors got the most improved by a whopping 27%. Scores for car seat scores have gotten 28% better in just a year as well. (This years rankings are also cross-referenced with fuel economy figures, allowing consumers to find both healthy and fuel-efficient vehicles.)
The cars and car seats were tested with a portable X-Ray Flourescence (XRF) device that can figure out what materials are composed of in less than 60 seconds. They tested the parts that were the most likely to be touched, including the steering wheel, shift knob, armrest/center console, dashboard, headliner, carpet, seat front, seat back, seat base, hard door trim and soft door trim. For car seats, they looked at seat bases, clips, EPS foam, shades, trim, and/or arm rests.
The Ecology Center believes that the 30 year-old law that regulates chemicals in commerce is in dire need of an overhaul, and they urge you to contact Senator Barbara Boxer (CA), Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, and U.S. Representative John Dingell (MI), Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, to ask for oversight hearings on re-writing TSCA.