How Nasty Toxins Invade Child Care Centers

Where do your kids spend the majority of their time? Probably in schools and child care 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 child care 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.

Until now…

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 child care settings. Researchers discovered that:

  • In 35 of the 40 child child care 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 percent 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, child care 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 child care 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 child care 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 child care settings from toxins.

Are you concerned about your child care center? Let us know in the comments how your child care environments measure up.


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by Katy Farber


Roya Juma
Roya Juma3 years ago

I used to work in a daycare and just watching a small room full of kids napping the air would get heavy. Now Im working in an air purification company and i believe that every class room in child centre should have an air purifier to help clean the toxins and contaminants and help little ones breath better!

Shannon B.
Shannon B4 years ago

An eye opener post to let many understand what can go wrong even with indoor environment. It is better to endorse cleaning habit if one is holding a any day care centers. Since we cannot take health of newborns for granted. Taking every step to stop reproduction of germs or bacteria behind closed doors.

Matt Ringer
Matt Ringer4 years ago

The air we breathe inside an enclosed environment, whether it is your home or office can become, stagnated and saturated with germs, chemicals, air pollution, and other harmful particles. As people our bodies absorb these elements through breathing. An all-natural paint additive has been developed. Air-ReNu, will turn any wall surface, into an effective and permanent air purification system. One application of Air-ReNu will remain effective for 10-12 years.

Ernie Miller
william Miller4 years ago

almost all pesticides and herbicides should be banned.

Lydia Weissmuller Price

The entire earth is contaminated. There are probably more toxins in these children's homes than are found in daycare centers. Carpet Fresh, air fresheners, cologne, Lysol, Pine Sol, bleach, furniture polish, people smoking, the list goes on and on. Not everyone is aware of the toxicity of these may not be as bad as you think.

Karen H.
Karen H4 years ago

There are far too many toxins & carcinogens everywhere. Why are companies allowed to knowingly endanger our health without advising us of the potential dangers?
I just read an article on how to make a dog bed with PVC pipe. PVC is a known carcinogen. Why would I want to expose Fido to that?
Growing up, I don't remember kids with as many health problems. Maybe it's in what they eat, play on, sleep on...
Azodicarbonamide has been linked to asthma, and is primarily used in foamed plastics such as yoga mats and sneaker soles. BUT it's also found in bread, frozen dinners, boxed pasta mix, and packaged baked goods in the U.S. Whereas most countries wait a week for flour to naturally whiten, American food processors prefer to use Azodicarbonamide to bleach the flour faster; thus exposing us to a known toxin.

judy s.
judy s4 years ago

Christie's comment about the paint is 'spot on'. Information related to toxins and products containing toxins is now part of any good early childhood ed coursework that caregivers should have already taken. Proper ventilation and clean-up is very important - after all, we're not going to do away with every activity that has the potential for exposure. Someone else pointed that our 'real world' is filled with similar exposures that we could all do without. Including in our own homes. Bedding, carpeting, laminated furniture, etc. Having worked in a daycare environment, I would be more concerned about the constant exposure to viruses and illness. Sure, it supposedly helps boost the immune system, but children don't need to be sick so frequently severely. Again, when looking for a good daycare, check for adequate ventilation and cleanliness. They should have a procedure in place for how frequently the toys and surfaces are wiped down, as well as criteria for how ill a child must be before not being allowed to stay.

Winn Adams
Winn A4 years ago


Wim Zunnebeld
Wim Zunnebeld4 years ago

Thx for sharing

Christie C.
Christie C4 years ago

Thanks for the article, but I was hoping there would be some mention of the toxic paint on the girl's hand in the picture.

Though finger paints are advertised as non-toxic and safe, the pigments in them are some of the most toxic chemical concoctions found in consumer goods. Of the tens of thousands of chemicals in products we use everyday, pigments are some of the few that are actually regulated by a federal agency, (think FD&C Red, Blue, etc) . They are regulated because they are known to be toxic. For example, chromium oxide green is known to cause cancer. So California requires manufacturers report their use of this pigment, but still allow it to be used in children's products.