Daycare Centers May Harbor Dangerous Contaminants
October 27, 2012

Elevated Carcinogen Levels Discovered In 87 Percent Of California Daycare Centers

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Nearly nine out of every 10 day care centers analyzed in a new University of California, Berkeley survey contained elevated levels of formaldehyde or other types of contaminants.

The study, which was funded by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and is the first detailed analysis of environmental contaminants and exposures for California day care centers, looked at 40 child care facilities in Alameda and Monterey counties, UC Berkeley Media Relations official Sarah Yang reported Thursday.

It discovered that 35 of them (87.5%) had chemicals and other pollutants that exceeded state health guidelines, including formaldehyde levels above California's safe-exposure guidelines of 9 micrograms per cubic meters over an eight hour period.

Formaldehyde is listed as a carcinogen under the state's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 and is also a known respiratory irritant, Yang said. It is "commonly found in the glues used in pressboard furniture and laminated wood," as well as "in many paint, clothing and cosmetic products" and in emissions originating from "combustion sources such as wood burning and gas stoves," she added.

"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," Asa Bradman, lead author of the study and the associate director of the UC Berkeley Center for Environmental Research and Children´s Health (CERCH), said. “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 facilities studied by UC Berkeley and the CARB serviced more than 1,700 children in both rural and urban areas, Yang explained. Bradman and colleagues collected dust samples from both the air and the floor while the children were in attendance at the centers, and tested those samples for a variety of chemicals and other substances, including fine particulates that can be inhaled into a person's lungs.

“These findings show that cleaning and sanitizing products impact air quality in child care settings,” Victoria Leonard, who was not involved in the research but works as a scientist at the UC San Francisco Institute for Health and Aging and the head of an initiative to promote healthier product choices in child care, told Yang. ”Given that many young children have asthma or other respiratory problems, this study offers strong evidence to select safer cleaning products that have less volatile chemicals.”

"In some centers, levels of ultrafine particles increased by up to a thousandfold when cooking appliances were turned on," Yang explained. "And since formaldehyde can also be emitted from gas stoves, the study authors advised using a range hood and fan when cooking to reduce particle and formaldehyde levels."

Other substances detected by the investigators included phthalates (found in plastics), flame retardants, pesticides and perfluorinated compounds (found in Teflon and stain resistant carpets), she added.