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10 Environmental Health Questions to Ask When Choosing Childcare

There are seemingly endless concerns once you have a child, including minimizing exposure to harmful chemicals—from BPA in baby bottles to toxic turf your child might play on to the amount of fluoride ingested

If you use childcare outside of your home, that’s another major thing to think about in your quest to keep your child safe and healthy. What food will your child eat there? What will the air quality be like? And more.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Washington Toxics Coalition offers 10 questions to ask when putting environmental health at the top of your checklist when picking the best childcare option.

1. How are pests managed, both inside and outside? Prioritize providers who answer this question by emphasizing prevention and discussing an integrated pest management approach. If a pesticide must be used as a last resort, check that your daycare follows state regulations to notify parents 48 hours in advance. 

2. Is the provider informed about lead issues? Choose facilities where the tap water has been tested for lead and where only cold water is used for cooking and making formula. If the building was built before 1978, ask if the paint has been tested for lead. Look out for flaking or chipping paint around windows and doors.

3. Are measures taken to maintain good indoor air quality (IAQ)? Look for adequate ventilation, with indoor air exchanged regularly for outdoor air. Avoid places that mask IAQ issues with air fresheners. Give preference to centers that choose solid wood or hard plastic furnishings rather than PVC/vinyl or upholstered furnishings. Likewise, select providers who repair any water damage promptly to prevent mold growth and who use low VOC products when painting or repairs are needed.

4. Are cots used for nap times? Prioritize centers that use cots and blankets instead of mats, as cots do not contain fire retardants. Fire retardants in mats are released into the air and dust children breathe and touch.

5. How is the facility cleaned? Which cleaning products are used? Give preference to providers who clean for health—damp mopping rather than sweeping, using a HEPA vacuum on area rugs and staying on top of dust, a health hazard. Safer are third-party certified cleaning products without fragrance such as those endorsed by Design for the Environment. Facilities that do not use wall to wall carpeting are preferable.

6. When and how are hands washed? Choose providers who steer clear of antibacterial soaps and products with triclosan. Additionally, look for the use of fragrance-free soap products.

7. What is the policy on disinfecting? You want to find daycare that follows best practices—disinfectants used only for their intended purpose and according to label instructions.

8. Are plastics used responsibly? You want to observe that cups and bottles are BPA-free, that toys and furniture are not made of PVC/vinyl and that food is not heated in plastic containers. 

9. Are appropriate art supplies used? You want to see that only art supplies intended for children are used and that household products are not repurposed as art materials. Check out the top 10 tips for choosing art materials

10. If food is provided, how is it chosen? Prioritize providers who choose organic or pesticide-free food, especially fruits and vegetables on the dirty dozen list

Also, check out Healthy Child Healthy World’s comprehensive guidebook, Easy Steps to Healthy Schools and Daycares.

What questions did you ask when choosing a childcare facility?

Visit EcoWatch’s TIPS and HEALTH pages for more related news on this topic.

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