Healthier Child Care Programs

 When we drop our children off at their child care programs, we want to know that they are safe and well-cared for, but many child care providers don’t have information on indoor air quality and the hazards in everyday products.  The Cleaning for Healthy Child Care Program can provide information on how to improve indoor air quality and assist providers with identifying safer products.  There are many aspects to greening a child care program, including identifying safer toys, building materials, furnishings, personal care products etc. and establishing environmentally healthy policies and practices. Our main focus will be on cleaning and pest control.  For additional information see Resources:  Childcare.

Preferable Purchasing and Waste Reduction for Child Care

The products used in child care programs have a large impact on both indoor air quality and on the amount of waste generated.

Our program addresses these issues and more and provides technical assistance to help providers choose safer products and reduce waste.

Cleaning for Healthier Child Care

Our youngest children are most vulnerable to the effects of toxic chemicals.  90% of a child’s brain development occurs during the early years of life. A growing body of research finds that exposure to certain chemicals while in utero or during the early years can lead to chronic diseases during their lifetime, as well as acute problems such as allergic reactions and asthma flares. 

Dr. Philip Landrigan, Chairman of the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine and Director of the Center for Children’s Health and the Environment of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, states, “hazardous chemicals in cleaning supplies, pesticides, and other products can pollute indoor air, unnecessarily exposing students to harm. This exposure is compounded by the vulnerability of children to environmental toxins.  Pound for pound of body weight, children have greater exposure to toxins because they drink more water, eat more food and breathe more air than adults.  Two additional characteristics of children further magnify their exposures: 1) they live and play close to the floor; and 2) they constantly put their fingers into their mouths.  Children’s metabolic pathways, especially in the first months after birth are immature.  Generally they are less well able to metabolize, detoxify, and excrete toxicants than adults and thus are more vulnerable to them.  Children are undergoing rapid growth and development, and their developmental processes are easily disrupted.  Since children have more future years of life than most adults, they have more time to develop chronic diseases that may be triggered by early exposures.”[i]

Dr. Leo Trasande an article advising developing countries on reducing childhood chemical exposures write, “as chemicals have become widespread in the environment in industrialized countries, the prevalence and incidence of chronic health conditions have increased. These conditions include asthma, certain birth defects, leukemia, and brain and testicular cancer. One in six US children are now obese, and 2–8 percent are now affected by developmental disabilities.[ii]

Cleaning Products

Research tells us that ingredients in common cleaning products are associated with asthma, endocrine disruption, cancer, birth defects, neurological and respiratory disorders and more.  A review of studies associated with cleaning products is available at: Studies of Health Impacts Associated with Cleaning Products.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of New England states that, “fumes from household cleaners, paint, perfumes, gasoline, and art supplies with odors”[iii] aggravate or trigger asthma.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using nontoxic cleaning products and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that, “certain ingredients in cleaning products can present hazard concerns to exposed populations.” The EPA lists the following under Benefits of Buying Green, “choosing less hazardous products that have positive environmental attributes (e.g., biodegradability, low toxicity, low volatile organic compound (VOC) content, reduced packaging, low life cycle energy use) and taking steps to reduce exposure can minimize harmful impacts to custodial workers and building occupants, improve indoor air quality, and reduce water and ambient air pollution while also ensuring the effectiveness of cleaning in removing biological and other contaminants from the building's interior.”

Safer cleaning products are readily available and easy to use.  The problem is that most child care providers do not have information on the health issues associated with conventional cleaning products and do not know how to identify safer (third-party certified) products.

Informed Green Solutions (IGS) is working with organizations across the country to identify and create the most up-to-date materials and training programs for the child care audience.  We are available to provide technical assistance to centers that are ready to make the change, but need expert guidance.  IGS is also available to provide trainings for child care stakeholders.

Pesticide Use

Pesticide use in and around child care centers is another area of concern. Evidence of the harmful effects of pesticide exposure on children continues to mount.

In 2007, 61% of children 0–6 in the U.S., about 12 million, were in child care, spending, on average, 37 hours a week[iv] there.  There were 1.2 million child care providers working in the U.S. in 2008. Nearly half of these providers are in their childbearing years when pesticide exposure may be most harmful[v]. A 2010 survey of 637 randomly chosen child care centers in California[vi] found that 90% of child care centers reported at least one problem with indoor and/or outdoor pests; that 55% of centers reported using non-microbicide pesticides to control pests, with 47% reporting use of sprays or foggers that can leave residues on surfaces and in the air, and potentially expose children and staff to high risk pesticides. In contrast, only 21% reported using lower risk pesticide application methods consistent with integrated pest management (IPM) such as baits and gels. The presence of pesticides has also been documented by environmental sampling in child care.  In a sampling study, pyrethroid and organophosphate (OP) pesticides were detected in surface and soil samples in 80% of centers.[vii]  In centers in North Carolina, researchers detected organophosphate and pyrethroid pesticides in air and dust, and suggested that exposures in child care environments may constitute a significant portion of total child exposures[viii]

Dust is a source of major exposure for pesticides[ix].  It is estimated that infants eat twice as much dust (100 mg vs. 50 mg/d), weigh one sixth as much, and are up to ten times more vulnerable than adults to dust exposure[x].  They are also less developed immunologically, physiologically, and neurologically, and therefore, are less able to metabolize, detoxify, and excrete pollutants[xi].  There is increasing evidence of adverse effects of pesticides on young children, particularly on neurodevelopment[xii]. Even infrequent pesticide use in America’s 1,191,747 child care centers and 238,103 family child care homes[xiii] represents a significant environmental impact.

Research links pesticides with asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, birth defects, cancer, neurodevelopment disorders, autism, loss of intelligence, hormone disruption and mental retardation[xiv].  Avoiding the use of pesticides in most cases requires a common sense approach known as integrated pest management.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for Child Care Centers

Integrated pest management is a management system that:


  1. eliminates or mitigates economic and health damage caused by pests;
  2. minimizes the use of pesticides and the risk to human health and the environment associated with pesticide applications; and,
  3. uses integrated methods, site or pest inspections, pest population monitoring, an evaluation of the need for pest control, and one or more pest control methods, including sanitation, structural repairs, mechanical and living biological controls, other non-chemical methods, and, if nontoxic options are unreasonable and have been exhausted, least toxic pesticides.

Information on IPM is available from a variety of sources.  Specifically the following websites contain excellent information:



Some simple steps to improving air quality in your child care center: 

  • Enroll in the Eco-Healthy Child Care Program
    • Adopt a less-toxic cleaning products policy
    • Implement an Integrated Pest Management policy
    • Purchase only less-toxic art supplies, furnishings, toys and playground equipment
    • Prohibit vehicle idling around the center
    • Test your center for radon and lead
    • Know proper handling procedures for light-fixtures, thermometers, batteries or other products containing mercury
    • Educate your staff about these and other environmental health issues

 Green Cleaning, Sanitizing and Disinfecting:  Toolkit for Early Care and Education

[i] Letter from Dr. Philip Landrigan to the Vermont Senate in support of green cleaning legislation.  2011.

[ii] Trasande, Leonardo, Massey, Rachel I., DiGangi, Joseph, Geiser, Kenneth, Ifueko Olanipekun, Abiola and Gallagher, Louise, How Developing Nations Can Protect Children From Hazardous Chemical Exposures While Sustaining Economic Growth. Health Affairs, 30, no.12 (2011):2400-2409.

doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2010.1217

[iii] The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of New England, For Childcare Providers,

[iv] NACCRRA, Child Care in America: 2009 State Fact Sheets. 2009, National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies: New York.

[v] Bradman, A., C. Dobson, and V. Leonard, PestManagement and Pesticide Use in California Child Care Centers. 2010, The Center for Children’s Environmental Health Research, UC Berkeley School of Public Health

[vi] Tulve, N.S., et al., Pesticide measurements from the first national environmental health survey of child care centers using a multi-residue GC/MS analysis method. Environmental Science & Technology, 2006. 40(20): p. 6269-74.

[vii] Bradman, A., C. Dobson, and V. Leonard, PestManagement and Pesticide Use in California Child Care Centers. 2010, The Center for Children’s Environmental Health Research, UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

[viii] Wilson, N.K., J.C. Chuang, and C. Lyu, Levels of persistent organic pollutants in several child day care centers. Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology, 2001. 11(6): p. 449-58.

[ix] Cohen Hubal, E.A., et al., Children's exposure assessment: a review of factors influencing children's exposure, and the data available to characterize and assess that exposure. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2000. 108(6): p. 475-86.

[x] Camann, D., J. Colt, and N. Zuniga. Distribution and quality of pesticide, PAH, and PCB measurements in bag dust in four areas of U.S.A. . in Ninth International Conference on Indoor Air Quality and Climate: Indoor Air. 2002. Monterey, CA.

[xi] Roberts, J.W., et al., Monitoring and reducing exposure of infants to pollutants in house dust. Rev Environmental Contamination Toxicology, 2009. 201: p. 1-39.

[xii] Grandjean, P. and P.J. Landrigan, Developmental neurotoxicity of industrial chemicals. The Lancet, 2006. 368(9553): p. 2167-2178.

[xiii]Landrigan, P.J., What causes autism? Exploring the environmental contribution. Current Opinion Pediatrics. 22(2): p. 219-25.

[xiv] Grandjean, P. and P.J. Landrigan, Developmental neurotoxicity of industrial chemicals. The Lancet, 2006. 368(9553): p. 2167-2178.