Cancer-Causing Chemical In Car Seats; Manufacturers Served With Violations, Consumers Left In Dark
SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- Parents are being left in the dark about cancer-causing chemicals in their children's car seats, even after companies are served with violation notices.
San Francisco mother of two Emma Potter was shocked to learn that the manufacturer of her "green" car seat had twice been served with a Prop 65 notice of violation. California's Prop 65 requires companies to notify consumers about "chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm" in their products.
"It makes me want to warn the people selling them," Potter said. Before we reached out to her, she was one of the hundreds attempting to re-sell her Orbit Baby car seat on Craigslist to recoup some of the money spent on the pricey car seat-stroller system.
The Orbit Baby Infant Essentials starter system retailed for more than $1,000, in part because the company claimed its materials were tested to ensure "below detection limits" of "dangerous flame retardant chemicals" including TDCPP, otherwise known as Chlorinated Tris.
We contacted Potter though her Craigslist post and told her about our ConsumerWatch investigation that uncovered that chemical, known to cause cancer, was repeatedly found in Orbit Baby G2 car seats just like the one she was attempting to resell.
"It makes me sick, I feel nauseous," Potter said. "I did research! I had the option of going with something cheaper."
Late last year, our investigation revealed that Orbit Baby, owned by Ergo Baby, agreed to buy back its car seats from children's boutique Sprout San Francisco after one of the store's Orbit car seats tested positive for TDCPP.
We also collected similar test results from other moms who had commented on blogs Natural Baby Mama.
Still, Orbit refused to publicly acknowledge the chemical in its products. Instead, the company cited its own "testing by independent accredited laboratories" but would not reveal its results.
So, we did our own testing of foam sewn into the headrests and the "Orbit Green Certified Fabric" of a 2013 G2 Infant and Toddler car seat. We specifically sought out labs that used the same EPA testing methodologies that Orbit was required to use as part of a 2014 Prop 65 settlement.
Three different labs revealed the same results: the Orbit Baby foam tested positive for TDCPP, which is the same form of Chlorinated Tris that was removed from kids pajamas in the 70's due to health concerns.
Knowingly selling a product containing Chlorinated Tris without a warning violates California's Prop 65.
"Prop 65 is a right-to-know statute," explained Deputy Attorney General Harrison Pollak. While he couldn't comment on Orbit specifically, Pollak said companies are required to provide clear and reasonable warning before knowingly exposing anyone to a listed chemical known to cause cancer or reproductive harm.
TDCPP is one of those chemicals and we've discovered that Orbit was twice served with Prop 65 notices of violation, but never had to notify parents whose kids are still using those products with TDCPP.
"Isn't the company knowingly exposing people who are still using that product, whose children are still using that product?" I asked Pollak in a recent interview.
"Arguably they are," he replied.
"Then isn't that a loophole?" I asked referring to the fact that Orbit had not been required to notify parents who's kids were still using the affected products even though they'd been served with violations more than two years earlier?
"I think the court can order the company to give the type of notice you are talking about," said Pollak. "And in the case of children's products, the court has required companies to retroactively notify parents about the chemicals found in their products."
However, to order a company to do anything, the case would actually have to go to court. Orbit settled out of court both times.
In fact, public records reveal that of the eight car seats models from four major manufacturers served with Prop 65 notices of violations since 2013, only two have court-ordered settlements, while more than 41% of all the Prop 65 violations filed last year were settled out of court.
In Orbit's case, the out-of-court settlements meant the people who filed the notice of violation got paid, but there was no court-ordered judgment affecting anyone else.
In one of the private settlements, Orbit did agree to change its formulations and increase testing moving forward. However, the company had said it was already testing for TDCPP before the violation in 2013.
More than a year after that settlement, an Ecology Center Technical Report found another form of Tris (TCPP) in a 2015 Orbit G3 car seat. The company's website claimed it "tested to ensure below detection levels" of that chemical as well.
The Center For Environmental Health (CEH), which tests products for Prop 65 violations, has taken many companies to court on behalf of California consumers. We brought our 2013 Orbits to CEH for testing.
"As long as the exposure is ongoing, then Orbit has a responsibility to let people know that," said CEH Media Director Charles Margulis.
CEH Attorney Mark Todzo agreed. "Rather than provide a warning that this chemical is known to cause cancer, they said this product doesn't have any hazardous chemicals at all. So it is particularly egregious."
A preliminary XRF screening of a new G3 Orbit Car seat purchased in 2016 found no "known" flame retardants. It had not yet been tested in a lab. However CEH pointed out that even if Orbit has increased testing and changed its formulation, children may continue to use the affected car seats for several years and then pass them on to others.
Orbit acknowledged changing foam manufacturers in 2012 and settled its first violation in 2014, but the company will not confirm that the car seats in question were manufactured during that two-year period.
In fact, Orbit continues to deny that any of its car sets contained TDCPP. Following our investigation, CEH served Orbit with another notice of violation demanding the company notify parents with affected car seats.
The non-profit said it will pursue a binding court-ordered judgment that requires notification though channels like sales records, public service campaigns, the company's website and contacting parents though the product registration cards that come with the car seats.
Before CEH filed its notice of violation, we asked Orbit if it would voluntarily notify affected customers and offer to replace affected car seat covers with ones without TDCPP or other chemicals listed on the site at the time of purchase.
Orbit declined to answer our questions but in a statement said in part:
Orbit Baby follows numerous best practices recommended by some advocacy groups, including prohibiting suppliers from using halogenated flame retardants, specifically limiting or restricting more than 100 different chemicals, and requiring compliance certifications. In addition, we have further expanded our own testing and protocols to include sample testing conducted by our suppliers and additional testing by independent, accredited laboratories. Our rigorous standards require not only annual testing but also multiple and random testing of numerous production batches. This means we are testing more of our products, more often.
Laboratory testing is a complicated matter in which test procedures are performed differently from lab to lab. We cannot speak to the test results of other laboratories. Individual test results for one sample product do not always represent the same result across all products due to many factors, including commingling.
When looking at test results, it is also important to understand the various regulations. For example, California's Proposition 65 does not prohibit the use of specific chemicals. Effectively, this California state regulation requires businesses to provide warnings if they are knowingly and intentionally using any of the listed substances in their products or their business operations.
We asked Potter if she would resell her car seat, knowing what she knows now. "No, it's not worth it," she said. "I'll just throw it out. I would never want to do that to another mom."
Potter said she only wishes the company, founded by Bay Area parents, felt the same way. "Show you care for your customer by saying, 'you know what, we didn't know before … but now we do and we want to help you fix that problem.'"
To find out if the manufacturers of one of the products in your home has been served with a Prop 65 notice of violation for "chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm," you can search the Attorney General's database here.
For resources on how to reduce you child's exposure to TDCPP and other concerning chemicals in children's products, you can read my NewsMom Blog on the topic here.
So, why should parents care what is in their child's car seat? I recently discovered the chemical in my daughter's G2 Orbit car seat was also in my daughter at levels eight times higher than the average child.
See Part-2 of this investigation and learn about the health implications for my child and yours, here:
"Consumer Reporter's Shocking Discovery: Daughter and Car Seat Test Positive For Same Cancer-Causing Flame Retardant"
"While pregnant, I reported on how to detect flame retardants in baby products and then went out and bought the recommended mattresses, changing pads and nursing pillows, and basically rid our home of polyurethane foam.
By the time my daughter was born, we believed our home was largely flame-retardant free aside from the electronics.
So imagine our surprise when a bio-monitoring study for an unrelated story revealed extremely high levels of the flame retardant TDCPP in my two-year-old." (Continue Reading)
NOTE: Car seats in cars save lives. None of this information should be interpreted to imply otherwise. The safest place for a child in a moving vehicle is in a rear-facing car seat in the middle of the back seat.
For more information, see
Car Seat Flame Retardant Continuing Coverage
for more features.