"Environmental Exposures in the Context of Child Care"

"Research has proven that infants and toddlers, who spend more time on the floor and experience the world with their hands and mouths, are not merely in closer contact with many indoor pollutants2 but also more sensitive to them. Yet environmental health standards in child care settings nationwide—which can include not just centers but also private homes, workplaces, universities, and places of worship—still lag behind those of schools, where children are older, larger, and somewhat less susceptible to environmental exposures. Unlike with more uniformly regulated schools, child care licensing, permitting, and oversight occur on a variety of levels, resulting in a fractured regulatory landscape."

"Just beyond the front door of the Montessori School at Five Canyons, a square glass-walled foyer is brimming with verdant houseplants in clay pots. Garden sculptures and glazed ceramic art are interspersed throughout. Above it all floats the looped sound of softly chirping birds. This lush tableau provides a fitting transition between the world outside and the carefully controlled atmosphere within, where child care director Meher Van Groenou has made environmental health one of her top priorities.

The school serves 120 toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergarteners in Castro Valley, California. Within its five classrooms, most toys and utensils are made of wood, glass, or stainless steel. Ample windows welcome natural light and permit cross-ventilation on warmer days. The carpets contain no glue, nor does the tongue-and-groove wood flooring.

Van Groenou helped design the building 11 years ago, drawing from her experience seeking to provide a healthy home for her own children. Green construction was by then already being embraced in California’s residential and commercial sectors, and in many schools—but not child care centers. There were few child care–specific resources to support her, no local standards to lead her, and hardly any other centers to offer a model."

Nate Seltenrich reports for Environmental Health Perspectives May 1, 2013.