Where do your kids spend the majority of their time? Probably in schools and childcare centers. While many schools have made considerable progress in the areas of environmental health, there is still a long way to go. Many are using green cleaners (Vermont has a new law about this!), limiting pesticides and car idling, and improving ventilation. But childcare centers are much less regulated. The settings vary so widely, it has been hard to understand the environmental health challenges that currently exist, and provide guidelines.
Research shows that babies and toddlers are exposed to more indoor pollutants and are more sensitive to them. In this time of rapid development, children are susceptible to the many toxins in typical childcare settings.
A new article in Environmental Health Perspectives notes this challenge within the childcare system:
Yet environmental health standards in child care settings nationwide — which can include not just centers but also private homes, workplaces, universities, and places of worship — still lag behind those of schools, where children are older, larger, and somewhat less susceptible to environmental exposures. Unlike with more uniformly regulated schools, child care licensing, permitting, and oversight occur on a variety of levels, resulting in a fractured regulatory landscape.”
A study shared in this article outlined new concerns about childcare settings. Researchers discovered that:
- In 35 of the 40 childcare centers studied, formaldehyde levels exceeded California’s strict 8-hour and chronic reference exposure levels. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen found in carpets, carpet pads, drapes, pressed and composite wood furniture — all common materials in child care settings.
- The levels of VOCs (include aldehydes, chloroform, benzene, and ethylbenzene), exceeded child-specific “safe harbor levels” that were computed by the report authors based on California Proposition 65 guidelines.
- Lead was detected in dust samples from 95% of the facilities — and there is no known safe level of lead. It is a dangerous neurotoxin.
- Indoor concentrations of coarse particulate matter measured over periods of 8–10 hours exceeded the 24-hour California Ambient Air Quality Standards
The study also shared that regular vacuuming likely reduced bromated flame retardant exposures and the pesticide exposures were below “acceptable” health standards.
Clearly, this study and article are a call to action for parents, childcare centers and legislators. We also need more research, particularly in how these chemicals combine to create harmful exposures. Thankfully, there are organizations working on this issue. Children’s Environmental Health Network provides training and endorsement to childcare centers. It has 700 child care providers in 43 states and the District of Columbia, Australia, and Canada, serving more than 36,000 children.
The study recommends an approach that includes outreach, education, and legislation. Here’s what to do if you are concerned about your childcare provider:
- Provide information (see this article).
- Follow up with a conversation focusing on one or two areas of concern.
- Ask about policies regarding cleaning, air quality, flooring, and toys.
- Make small and doable suggestions — for example, provide green cleaning supplies.
- Volunteer to organize a committee to educate about environmental health.
- Ask your state legislators about how they can protect kids in childcare settings from toxins.
Are you concerned about your child care center? Let us know in the comments how your child care environments measure up.