A new, comprehensive survey of day care centers by UC Berkeley School of Public Health researchers found that, overall, the environmental quality in child care settings was similar to other indoor environments, but that levels of formaldehyde and several other contaminants exceeded state health guidelines. Cleaning- and sanitizing-related chemicals were also present in the air, and sometimes at higher levels, than in comparable studies on homes.
Formaldehyde, a known respiratory irritant and a listed carcinogen under California’s Proposition 65, “The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986,” is commonly found in the glues used in pressboard furniture and laminated wood. It is also in many paint, clothing and cosmetic products, and is emitted from combustion sources such as wood burning and gas stoves.
“Children are more vulnerable to the health effects of environmental contaminants, and many small children spend as much as 10 hours per day, five days a week, in child care centers,” said study lead author Asa Bradman, associate director of the UC Berkeley Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health (CERCH). “We wanted to establish the baseline levels of environmental exposures in these early child care settings, and to provide information that could be used for any necessary policy changes.”
The 40 centers in the study were located in a mix of urban, rural and agricultural areas, and served a total of 1,764 children. The researchers collected air and floor dust samples when the children were present and tested for a broad array of chemicals. Particles in the air were also measured, including ultrafine particles, which are extremely small and can be inhaled deeply into lungs.
The California Air Resources Board has been developing and implementing regulatory programs to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds from consumer products used in homes and institutions. In 2008, under its Toxic Air Contaminants Program, the board implemented new rules to reduce formaldehyde emissions from building materials and furniture made from pressed wood, the biggest source of formaldehyde in indoor air.
Although furnishings and building materials that emit formaldehyde can still be sold in California until the regulation is fully implemented, there are many new pressed wood products on the market that emit little or no formaldehyde. These low emitting products are labeled as CARB Phase 2 (P2). Composite woods products labeled as Ultra Low Emitting Formaldehyde (ULEF) or No Added Formaldehyde (NAF) have the lowest emissions profiles.
“This study reinforces the need for child care providers to remain alert to environmental concerns,” said Hester Paul, director of the EcoHealthy Child Care program for the Children’s Environmental Health Network in Washington, D.C.
“It is important to identify areas where improvement is needed, and this study has done that,” added Paul, who is not affiliated with this study. “Fortunately, many local, state and non-profit agencies are working to give child care providers the tools they need to address environmental concerns.”
Other study authors are Fraser Gaspar, Rosemary Castorina, Elodie Tong-Lin, and Thomas McKone at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, and Randy Maddalena at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
By Sarah Yang