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 (ECE) programs are located in safe places – so that children aren’t exposed to dangerous chemicals during their care. Our goal is to work with professionals in public health, community planning, zoning, licensing, environmental protection, early care and education, and other fields to create safe practices in our communities.
Understanding the problem
ECE programs may be located in places where children and staff can come in contact with dangerous chemicals even if they meet current state licensing regulations. As a result, a new ECE program might open in a contaminated industrial building that was never cleaned up, or next door to a dry cleaner using harmful chemicals. This can put staff and especially children – who are more sensitive to the effects of chemicals because they're still growing – at risk of health problems. In some cases, these health effects may be irreversible.
How 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 ECE facilities. We are adopting practices and supporting polices that will make sure ECE programs are located in facilities where children won't be exposed to dangerous chemicals. We are helping professionals who make ECE siting decisions learn how to evaluate a site for an ECE program by considering:
- 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
We recognize there are many other environmental issues that are also important concerns to consider in keeping children safe. A couple of important considerations not related to siting are:
- 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
- Go to the Indoor Radon Program website from the California Department of Public Health to find if your zip code has high radon values. Consider ordering a free or low-cost radon test kit from the California Indoor Radon Program.
- Find out if your site uses a private well. If so, consider having it tested.
- The California Department of Pesticide Regulation provides information and guidance on green cleaning alternatives for child care providers.
- Learn how to develop and adopt green cleaning policies and practices in child care centers. (Link to Webpage)
- Check out the Choose Safe Places for Early Care and Education (CSPECE) Toolkit. You'll find an interactive checklist for choosing a safe location, a copy of our complete guidelines, and more helpful resources.
- Find out more information from the Administration for Children and Families, Office of Early Childhood Development.
- Contact Nancy Villaseñor at the Site Assessment Section for additional information at (510) 620-5845 or by email at Nancy.Villasenor@cdph.ca.gov.
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).