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Environmental health investigations branch

Environmental Health Investigations Branch




  • California has about 2.5 million children under the age of 5


  • There are more than 43,000 child care facilities in California


  • From infancy to starting school, children can spend up to 12,500 hours in child care


  • Child care facilities in California have space for about 40% of children in the state


  • There are about 107,000 child care providers in California. Half of them are women of child bearing age




Working together to protect children's health

The Site Assessment Section (SAS) of the California Department of Public Health is working to make sure that early care and education programs are located in safe places – so that children are not exposed to dangerous chemicals during their care. Our goal is to work with child care providers, public agencies responsible for licensing, early care and education, community planning, environmental protection, and other fields to create safe practices in our communities.

Understanding the problem

Usually, child care facilities are safe. However, sometimes they may be located in places where children and staff can be exposed to dangerous chemicals, even if they meet current state licensing regulations. A child care facility may be located in a former industrial building that was contaminated with harmful chemicals, or the child care facility may share a ventilation system with a next-door business that uses harmful chemicals. This can put staff and especially children (who are more sensitive to the effects of chemicals because they are still growing) at risk of exposure to harmful chemicals. In some cases, these exposures can lead to health effects.

Why are children are more sensitive to harmful chemicals than adults?

  • Their developing brains and bodies are more vulnerable to harmful chemicals.
  • For their size, children drink more water and breathe more air than adults.
  • Crawling and hand-to- mouth behavior can increase the exposure for harmful chemicals in their bodies.
  • Exposure to harmful chemicals as a child can have lifelong effects.

How we are helping

SAS is developing a program that encourages better choices about where to locate child care facilities. We are working with the California Department of Social Services (the licensing agency) and the California Department of Education to make sure child care programs are located in facilities where children will not be exposed to dangerous chemicals. We are helping professionals who make child care siting decisions learn how to evaluate a site for an child care program by considering the following criteria:

  • Chemicals from previous uses of the property. When businesses like factories, dry cleaners, and warehouses close, they can leave behind harmful chemicals in the air, soil, and water.
  • Chemicals from nearby activities. If chemicals are released from nearby businesses they can move into the air, soil, or groundwater of the child care facility. For example, a nail salon can be a problem if it shares a ventilation system with the child care facility.
  • Naturally occurring chemicals. Some chemicals, like asbestos and radon gas, are naturally occurring in certain areas. Radon can move indoors and asbestos can be present in the soil outside.
  • Drinking water. Most child care facilities get their drinking water from a public utility company. But some may use private wells. This water is not regularly tested

There are many other environmental issues that are important to consider in keeping children safe during their time in childcare::

  • Chemicals used in construction. Before 1978, building materials with lead and asbestos were widely sold in the United States. These harmful chemicals can remain in older buildings.
  • Chemicals you use everyday. Cleaning products, disinfectants, pesticides, and weed killers can all be dangerous if not used and stored properly.


Do you want to know if there are harmful chemicals at your child care facility?

Start by looking around:

  • Do nearby businesses use harmful chemicals?
  • Does the child care facility properly use and store cleaning products or other chemicals?

Ask some questions. Public records or your landlord may help you answer:

  • What was the property used for in the past? Were any harmful chemicals used on the site?
  • Was the property tested for lead-based paint, asbestos, and radon?
  • Is the drinking water from a private well? If so, has it been tested?

What you can do

Learn more

  • The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has developed a guidance called “Choose Safe Places for Early Care and Education” (CSPECE). On their website, you will find a video, toolkit, an interactive checklist for choosing a safe location, a copy of the complete guidelines, and more helpful resources:  
  • Contact Nancy Villaseñor at the Site Assessment Section for additional information at (510) 620-5845 or by email at


The Choose Safe Places for Early Care and Education program is supported by funding through a cooperative agreement between the California Department of Public Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).


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