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Learn how to protect children from exposure to harmful chemicals at childcare and early education sites.

The Site Assessment Section (SAS) of the California Department of Public Health works with professionals in public health, community planning, zoning, licensing, environmental protection, early care and education, and other fields to create safe practices in our communities. The Choose Safe Places for Early Care and Education program is supported by funding through a cooperative agreement between the California Department of Public Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. How can children be exposed to harmful chemicals at early care and education (ECE) facilities?

  • Even if ECE programs meet current state licensing regulations, they may be located in places where children and staff can come in contact with dangerous chemicals.

  • For example, a new ECE program might open in a contaminated industrial building that has not been cleaned up or next door to a drycleaner that uses harmful chemicals.

  • These locations can put staff and children at risk of health problems. In some cases, these health effects may be permanent.

Why are children more sensitive to harmful chemicals than adults?

  • Their developing brains and bodies are more vulnerable to harmful chemicals.

  • For their size, children drink more water and breathe more air than adults.

  • Crawling and hand-to- mouth behavior can increase the exposure for harmful chemicals in their bodies.

  • Exposure to harmful chemicals as a child can have lifelong effects.

What is SAS doing to help protect children from harmful chemicals at ECE facilities?

SAS has developed a program that encourages choosing healthy locations for ECE facilities. We adopt practices and support polices that make sure ECE programs are on properties or in facilities where children won't be exposed to dangerous chemicals.

What if I am planning to open an ECE facility?

We are helping professionals who make ECE siting decisions learn how to evaluate a site for an ECE program by considering:

  • Chemicals from previous uses of the property. When businesses like factories, dry cleaners, and warehouses close, they can leave behind harmful chemicals in the air, soil, and water.

  • Chemicals from nearby activities. If chemicals are released from nearby businesses they can move into the air, soil, or groundwater of the child care facility. For example, a nail salon can be a problem if it shares a ventilation system with the child care facility.

  • Naturally occurring chemicals. Some chemicals, like asbestos and radon gas, are naturally occurring in certain areas. Radon can move indoors and asbestos can be present in the soil outside. To see where areas with potential for naturally occurring asbestos are in CA, check out our interactive map.

  • Drinking water. Most child care facilities get their drinking water from a public utility company, which is regularly tested to make sure it meets safe drinking water standards. But some child care facilities may use private wells, where it's up to the owner alone to regularly test the water.

Other environmental issues are also important concerns in keeping children safe. Consider these potential chemical exposures:

  • Chemicals used in construction. Before 1978, building materials with lead and asbestos were widely sold in the United States. These harmful chemicals can remain in older buildings.

  • Chemicals you use every day. Cleaning products, disinfectants, pesticides, and weed killers can all be dangerous if not used and stored properly.

Complete this voluntary environmental checklist in English and in Spanish that will help you identify potential sources of harmful chemicals at or near the facility.

Read on to learn about environmental concerns at existing ECE facilities.

Do you own or operate an ECE facility?

Find out if there are harmful chemicals at or near your facility. Look around and ask questions:

  • Do nearby businesses use harmful chemicals?

  • Does the child care facility properly use and store cleaning products or other chemicals?

Public records, your property owner, or the former owner may help you answer these questions:

  • What was the property used for in the past? Were any harmful chemicals used on the site?

  • Was the property tested for lead-based paint, asbestos, and radon?

  • Is the drinking water from a private well? If so, has it been tested?

Find out about radon, private wells, and green cleaning online:

  1. Go to the Indoor Radon Program website from the California Department of Public Health to find if the facility's zip code has high radon values. Consider ordering a free or low-cost radon test kit from the California Indoor Radon Program.

  2. Check your surroundings for areas with potential for naturally occurring asbestos through our interactive map.

  3. Find out if your site uses a private well. If so, consider having it tested.

  4. Learn how to develop and adopt green cleaning policies and practices in childcare centers. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation provides information and guidance on green cleaning alternatives for childcare providers.

  5. Learn what you can do to prevent childhood lead poisoning at your child care. Read these tips from the California Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch

Would you like to learn more?

  • Check out the Choose Safe Places for Early Care and Education (CSPECE) Toolkit. You'll find an interactive checklist for choosing a safe location, a copy of our complete guidelines, and more helpful resources: CSPECE Information

  • Contact Nancy Villaseñor at the Site Assessment Section for additional information at (510) 620-5845 or by email at

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