By Michael Green
When parents pay a premium price for high-end products for their children, they expect those products to be safe -- especially when the products are advertised as safer than other similar, cheaper versions.
But parents who purchased some Orbit Baby car seats recently found out that they weren’t getting what they paid for. Orbit sells high-end car seats, including car seat/stroller “travel systems” that can cost more than $1,500. Some parents who are concerned about toxic chemicals were persuaded to shell out the money for an Orbit car seat by the company’s promise that its products are made without flame-retardant chemicals.
After all, as many parents know, flame-retardant chemicals can cause cancer and have been linked to numerous other serious health problems, including lower IQ, advanced puberty and reduced fertility, among others.
Referring to brominated flame retardants (BFRs), Orbit’s advertising claimed that its car seats are “BFR-Free” and “… made without the use of toxic brominated and chlorinated chemicals.” But tests on certain Orbit car seats by the Center for Environmental Health and others show that the foam filling in the seats contained high levels of chlorinated Tris, a flame-retardant chemical that is known to cause cancer. Under California’s strong consumer protection law, consumers must be warned before they purchase products that can expose them to cancer-causing chemicals, including Tris.
Orbit not only failed to warn consumers, but the company also actively mislead parents with false advertising that claimed its products were safer because they did not contain any toxic flame retardants like Tris. Our organization is now taking legal action calling on Orbit to recall the contaminated car seats. Concerned parents who bought an Orbit car seat can contact CEH to learn more.
Orbit’s deceptive advertising is among the worst greenwashing we have seen in 20 years of exposing unsubstantiated eco-claims. It’s especially disturbing to note that, according to CBS News, one retailer alerted Orbit to the problem with its car seats as early as the fall of 2014, but the company continued to advertise the products as flame retardant-free.
The Orbit story is coming out at a time when dozens of other baby products and furniture companies are making legally-binding commitments to eliminate flame retardants from their products. In addition, major companies, institutions and universities that collectively buy $600 million worth of furniture annually, including Harvard, Facebook, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and others, are urging their furniture suppliers to provide them with products free from flame-retardant chemicals.
No parent should have to pay more to provide their child with safer products free from harmful chemicals. With a growing global market for safer products, companies that can offer affordable, truly sustainable goods will be rewarded. For both consumers and corporations, the Orbit story shows that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom from harmful chemicals.
Image courtesy of the Center for Environmental Health
Michael Green is Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Health.