Location is everything nowadays. Where we live and work can determine the types of professional opportunities we have, as well as how we spend our free time. Many people may not realize that the locations where we spend a lot of time can directly affect our health. This is especially true for young children, whose bodies and brains are rapidly growing and developing. Their home setting is significant, but so is the setting of any child care or other early care and education (ECE) program they attend. Environmental vulnerabilities such as exposure to lead in water, poor indoor air quality, and contaminated soil can cause, worsen, or contribute to long-lasting health conditions. Emerging science is linking chemicals commonly found in and around child care settings to asthma, lower IQ, and developmental disabilities. Young children’s behaviors—such as putting hands to mouths or crawling on the floor—can increase their exposure to any environmental toxins present.
Consider the Environment
Many ECE programs may be located, or may be considering moving to a location, where children and staff are or would be being exposed to environmental contamination. Most states do not require a site-specific environmental assessment for child care facilities; as a result, a new ECE program might open in an industrial building contaminated by chemicals that were never cleaned up, or next door to a business using harmful chemicals (i.e., a dry cleaner or nail salon). Only three states—Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York—currently have “safe siting” programs in place. Environmental assessments conducted on licensed child care centers in New Jersey during a nine- year timespan found that 2.2 percent of child care centers had possible harmful exposures where action was needed. 3 Such circumstances put both children and staff at risk.
The federal Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has created the Choose Safe Places for Early Care and Education program and guidance manual to encourage thoughtful consideration about where to locate ECE programs. It gives towns, cities, and states a framework to adopt practices that will ensure ECE programs are sited away from chemical hazards. In addition, the ATSDR Partnership to Promote Local Efforts to Reduce Environmental Exposure (APPLETREE) Program funds 25 state health departments to advance the goal of keeping communities safe from harmful chemical exposures and related diseases. The Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN), the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) are working to provide support and assistance to the APPLETREE grantees, and to other, unfunded local and state partners, to better protect children enrolled in child care programs throughout the nation.
Ensuring that ECE programs are located in safe places is vital to protecting the health and general well-being of children and their caretakers. Check out the new Choose Safe Places for early Care and Education guidance manual on the ATSDR website. If you’re a new child care provider, learn how to select a safe setting for your program by visiting ”Set It Up Safe.”