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How Can Daycare Facilities Minimize Toxic Exposures?


Rapid Response Question: Can you tell us what toxins to avoid in a drop-in child care facility?  

Request by: Fauntleroy YMCA, Seattle, Washington  

* DISCLAIMER: PPRC does not endorse any specific products or manufacturers mentioned herein.

UPDATE (7/6/15): Since this report was initially published, new information has been added.

Overview

Children's vulnerability to toxicsThe question relates to facilities that provide temporary, drop-in day care for children, ages three to ten. The facility consists of: a mat zone (for jumping and tumbling), a snack area, general toys and books, an arts and craft area, and periodic trips to the outdoor playground.

Since it is not a licensed day care, it is not bound by the same regulatory cleaning requirements as a daycare facility, but it does use bleach and various disinfectants including aerosol sprays and wipes.

The facility wants to prioritize and mimimize toxic exposures to visiting children. The following sections provide some information and suggestions, categorized under cleaning exposure, cleaning and disinfection, building materials, toys, art, and pest management.

Children’s Exposure

Many of the specific health impacts of products mentioned below are dependent on the amount and duration of exposure, and susceptibility of anyone exposed. Children are often more susceptible than adults due to the reasons depicted in Figure 1.

Cleaning & Disinfecting at Drop-In Child Care

Many standard cleaning and disinfecting chemicals contribute to asthma and other respiratory conditions, and may contain other chemicals that can irritate mucous membranes and skin. Others can cause acute illness or poisoning, and some may even include carcinogenic chemicals!

In most states, current law offers “confidential business information” or “trade secret” protection, so manufacturers do not need to list ingredients on labels of cleaning products. While this sometimes makes it hard to determine what is in a product, many initiatives exist to increase disclosure, and to better understand the hazards and toxicity of cleaning products. For instance:

Below is a short synopsis of potential health impacts of different cleaning compounds:.

Respiratory. Three asthmogenic compounds common in cleaners and disinfectants are bleach, quaternary ammonium compounds (aka “quats”), and fragrances (both synthetic and certain natural fragrances from essential oils). Examples of quats include alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride, and benzalkonium chloride.

Fine aerosols cause respiratory irritation because they emit super fine particles that can suspend in air and penetrate deep into the lung when breathed. It is important to minimize use of these products considering the susceptibility of children to harmful air compounds. One in ten children have some level of asthma. Also, children breathe more air, pound for pound, than adults

Acute Illness or Poisoning. Though ingredients are not required to be written on the label in most states, regulations do require that cleaner labeling must state Danger, Poison, Caution, or Warning, if applicable based on regulatory definitions of these terms. The highest hazard label is DANGER or POISON. A moderate hazard is signaled with a caution or warning sign. A safer cleaner should not have any of these terms on the label. Note that the “dose” or exposure, stated below, refers to an average-sized male, not a small child with developing brain and organs who is far more susceptible to chemical exposure.

“Signal Words” (required by law if applicable) are defined by the amount of the product that “may be fatal or harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin by an adult 180-pound man.”Caution – An ounce to a pint     Warning- A teaspoon to an ounce     Danger – A taste to a teaspoon

Hormone/Endocrine Disruption. Synthetic fragrances are one important contributor to endocrine disruption because they usually contain phthalates. Other endocrine disruptors include:

  • Triclosan, a common antibacterial chemical in hand soaps.
  • Alkylphenols, present in some cleaners.
  • Perfluorinated chemicals in some stain guard sprays.

Cancer. Some synthetic dyes, perfluorinated compounds (stain guard), may be associated with increased cancer risk.

Tips for Cleaning, Disinfecting and Related Activities

  • Do not use shaving cream as a “fun” cleaning project.
  • Ensure bleach formulation is correct, especially for concentrated bleach, which is commonly available now.
  • Do not use bleach or other disinfectants when children are present, including disinfectant wipes. Ideally, a trained staff member or custodian should be in charge of using bleach or other disinfectants, as needed.
  • Avoid disinfecting wipes. Many of these contain the asthmogenic compounds mentioned above. Basic and thorough cleaning, which removes the physical contaminants that can harbor germs, will suffice for most operations in a facility such as this. Disinfecting should not be done in the presence of children unless bodily fluids are released. Further, if disinfecting wipes are not used properly, leaving the surface “visibly wet” for a specified amount of time (usually about 15 to 30 seconds for over the counter products), they will not be effective in killing the germs. Disinfection is best left to trained custodial staff.
  • Avoid fragrances (perfume, or parfum), antibacterials, and dyes in all cleaning products.
  • Hand washing is most effective with plain old soap (free of fragrance, dye, and antibacterials), and warm water. Avoid antibacterial soaps as these wash aquatic toxins down the drain and inhibit children’s natural immune development. Sanitizers offer added protection, but are less effective when hands are not clean in the first place.
  • Avoid stain guard products.
  • Absolutely avoid aerosol sprays. If spray bottles are purchased, use the adjustable setting with the largest particle size, or better, spray into the rag for cleaning, to minimize airborne chemicals.
  • Store all cleaners and related products OUT OF REACH of children.
  • If the facility was painted before or around the 1980s (inside or out!), or you have chipping or dusty paint or cement, etc. anywhere on the facility or play structures, TEST for LEAD.
  • If kids play in dirt, or on artificial turf, or on any treated or painted wood surfaces outdoors, wipe feet on a rug or mat when coming in from the outdoors. Then wash hands (with regular hand soap free of antibacterials, fragrances or dyes).
  • Question about the safety of a toy? See toy recalls at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) at cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/category/toy.html
  • Minimize upholstered furniture that may contain flame retardants. For more info, see the WA Toxic Coalition’s page on “Choosing Safer Products: Furniture.”
  • Avoid anything with magnets that are less than about 1” in size. See CSPC’s magnet awareness campaign and Figure 2.

Materials & Toys

  • If the facility was painted before or around the 1980s (inside or out!), or you have chipping or dusty paint or cement, etc. anywhere on the facility or play structures, TEST for LEAD.
  • If kids play in dirt, or on artificial turf, or on any treated or painted wood surfaces outdoors, wipe feet on a rug or mat when coming in from the outdoors. Then wash hands (with regular hand soap free of antibacterials, fragrances or dyes).
  • Avoid polyvinyl chloride (PVC, #3 plastic) products of any kind – toys, shower curtains, blinds, tablecloths, aprons, bibs, art aprons.These have the potential to release lead and phthalates. PVC toys are typically pliable plastic, Soft plastic toys like bath toys, squeeze toys, and dolls are commonly made of vinyl.
  • Purge the facility of painted toys, especially if made in China.
  • Avoid polyvinyl chloride (PVC, #3 plastic) products of any kind – toys, shower curtains, blinds, tablecloths, aprons, bibs, art aprons.These have the potential to release lead and phthalates. PVC toys are typically pliable plastic, Soft plastic toys like bath toys, squeeze toys, and dolls are commonly made of vinyl.
  • magnetic toys

    Magnetic Toys. (Photo courtesy of CPSC).

    Question about the safety of a toy? See toy recalls at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) at cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/category/toy.html

  • Minimize upholstered furniture that may contain flame retardants. For more info, see the WA Toxic Coalition’s page on “Choosing Safer Products: Furniture.”
  • Avoid anything with magnets that are less than about 1” in size. See CSPC’s magnet awareness campaign and Figure 2.

Art

  • Avoid
    • cheap metal trinkets for art or jewelry making.
    • uncooked red kidney beans.
    • White board markers, even low odor.
  • Always buy non-toxic paints, certified to AP label.
  • When purchasing art supplies, check for the Art & Creative Materials Institute’s (ACMI) Approved Product Seal (AP), which means the item has been certified to AMCI and poses no immediate or long-term health hazards and is nontoxic. Visit acminet.org and go to their certification page to search a database of the thousands of products the group has evaluated.
  • Another good resource is http://www.watoxics.org/healthy-living/healthy-families/safe-start-for-kids-1/choosing-safer-products-art-and-craft-supplies/
  • Both tube and bulb fluorescents contain mercury. If a bulb breaks within a play zone,
    • evacuate children from the space immediately!
    • call the custodian for clean-up.
    • open windows if possible and turn off any forced air heating or cooling.
    • Children should not return until 20 minutes after cleanup is completed.

Light Bulbs

See US Environmental Protection Agency’s protocol for broken bulb clean-up.

Snacks

  • ALWAYS check allergy list on the sign-in sheet or kid profile cards.
  • When buying snacks, avoid ingredients such as:
  • hydrogenated (trans fats);
  • artificial food preservatives (e.g., BHT, MSG, BHA);
  • artificial colors and dyes (Yellow #5, Red #40) –these may be associated with ADHD or other health problems;
  • artificial sweeteners (NutraSweet, aspartame, Splenda, saccharin, etc.); and,
  • high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – some products containing HFCS are contaminated with mercury from the production process.
  • Water is a healthier and safer bet than juice. Juice naturally contains a lot of sugar, and non-organic may contain residual arsenic or pesticides depending on the fruit or vegetable base of the juice.

Pest Management & Landscaping

  • Contact facility management to take care of pest issues inside or outside of the building. Chemicals should not be used when children are present.
  • If possible, implement an integrated pest management strategy.
  • Ensure day-care staff is informed of inside or outside pesticide and fertilizer application. Children should skip any outdoor play within 24 hours of application.
  • Ensure staff are aware of any insect or rodent bait traps and children are not allowed in these areas.
  • After playing outdoors, especially on preserved wood play structures, in the dirt, have the children wipe their feet on a dedicated door mat, and wash their hands.
  • Always check for safer alternative landscaping and pesticide chemicals?

Conclusions

Children are more vulnerable to toxins than adults, and daycare facilities should use every effort possible to minimize exposure to potential chemicals while the children are at the  facility.

Additional Sources (Not Included in Links Above).

  1. Breast Cancer Fund. Chemicals in Household Products. http://www.breastcancerfund.org/clear-science/environmental-breast-cancer-links/household-products/
  2. Art and Craft Safety Guide U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/5015.pdf
  3. Choosing a Healthy Childcare Facility, Washington Toxics Coalition http://www.watoxics.org/saferproducts/choosingahealthychildcarefacility
  4. Eco-Healthy Child Care Checklist, Oregon Environmental Council http://www.oeconline.org/ourwork/kidshealth/ehcc/EHCCChecklist

 

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