Educators focus on the developmental stages and growth children experience from birth through five years of age. We wonder at their independence and curiosity, support them through their frustrations, and celebrate individual milestones. As children interact with their environment, our job as caretakers, educators, and supporters of early care is to ensure they are safe in their play and learning.

Children have unique physiological and behavioral characteristics, are not just more vulnerable to environmental hazards than adults, but also at a higher risk of suffering from their adverse health effects. This vulnerability is a cause for concern and a pressing issue that should spur immediate action to protect our children’s health and well-being.

Here are a few reasons why children are particularly at risk:

Rapid development: Children’s bodies are still growing. Their higher metabolic rates can lead to faster absorption of toxicants.

Body size: Children eat, drink, and breathe more in proportion to their body size. This can lead to higher exposure to environmental contaminants from food and water.

Behavior: Children often put objects in their mouths to learn about them, to help relieve teething discomfort, or to self-soothe. Children also crawl and play on the floor and ground. This leads to a greater exposure to dirt, or chemicals that have settled after having been sprayed.

Breathing rate: Children’s airways are smaller than an adult’s. They breathe faster than adults, which makes them more vulnerable to air pollution. Also, protective bodily systems that filter pollutants from inhaled air and process chemicals in the body, are not yet fully functional.

Two young children wearing dresses while they hold hands and walk

These are just a few reasons why extra care must be taken to reduce children’s exposure to environmental hazards. Our responsibility as a society is to enable all children to grow up in a safe and healthy environment.

This is not a task that can be completed by a single person or even a single entity. This issue requires close coordination and cooperation from multiple entities. The Children’s Environmental Health Network is a national multi-disciplinary organization that protects developing children from environmental health hazards and actively promotes healthier environments where children routinely spend time. CEHN’s support for prevention-oriented research, leadership in increasing awareness and education, and promotion of sound public health and child-focused national policy development are all instrumental in reducing children’s exposure to environmental hazards.

Eco-Healthy Child Care® is an award-winning and science-based program of the Children’s Environmental Health Network. It is the only national environmental health endorsement program for early care & education providers. Eco-Healthy Child Care® partners with child care professionals (both center-based and home-based) to identify and reduce environmental hazards such as pesticides, lead & unsafe plastics found in & around child care facilities.

Since 2010, EHCC has worked at the national level to elevate affordable and realistic best practices for reducing children’s exposure to known environmental health hazards. Lead exposure is a key area of interest and concern, because exposure is preventable. Lead is frequently found in old paint, water, soil, dust, toys, glassware, ceramics, and kids’ jewelry. There is no safe threshold for lead exposure, especially for children. This means even low levels of exposure can cause brain damage, lowered IQ, and behavior problems.

In collaboration with the National Center for Healthy Housing and the National Association of Family Child Care, EHCC developed the Lead-Safe Toolkit for Home-Based Child Care. This free toolkit provides posters, worksheets, and easy-to-follow steps for discovering if lead hazards exist within a child care facility and how to reduce exposures. This toolkit is available in both English and Spanish.

The toolkit is divided into four categories correlating with common types of lead exposure: Lead in Paint, Lead in Drinking Water, Lead in Soil, Lead in Consumer Products. Each category has accompanying webinars where participants can learn even more about lead. There is also a general resources section. While education about lead is useful, implementing program policies that acknowledge and prevent children from coming into contact with lead are vital. The toolkit also includes example policies and information on how to adopt lead prevention policies. The toolkit is ever-evolving, and new resources are added as they are developed.

While lead will continue to be important to child care facilities, there are other environmental hazards that our children may face, such as: pesticides, household chemicals, unsafe plastics, and poor indoor air quality. Education regarding multiple environmental hazards and low—or no-cost methods to reduce exposure is available through EHCC’s e-learning course. The Protecting Children’s Environmental Health E-Course is interactive and approved for 3 adult learning clock hours in all states. Child care providers can apply to become an Eco-Healthy Child Care® endorsed facility. There are two main components that are considered before a program can become endorsed. One is the completion of the E-learning course, and the other is the completion of  Eco-Healthy Child Care’s® Checklist. This checklist provides 35 simple, free, or low-cost environmentally healthy best practices. If a facility complies with 30 of the 35 checklist items, they can apply to become an Eco-Healthy Child Care® endorsed facility. The endorsed facilities receive a certificate and can use the EHCC logo on their website and within promotional materials. This endorsement shows parents that the child care center  or family child care home is going above and beyond licensing requirements to help keep children in their care safe from environmental hazards.

While there is still much work to do, having educational information available for free, like the lead toolkit, is a significant beginning. The next step is ensuring that this information gets into the right hands. If you learned something here, please share it with a colleague or educator you know.

As the weather warms up, many children are outside playing in the dirt. Help children get all the benefits of outdoor play without the risk of exposure to lead. Get informed and take action to test for lead in your soil with the Lead-Safe ToolKit.

This is the first installment of a collaborative series with The Children’s Environmental Health Network to explore the realities of lead exposure, how to detect lead, and accessible ways to protect your children and care environment from this harmful heavy metal. 

 

Eco-Healthy Child Care® Program Manager at 

Jessica Mauricio Price, MS works as the Eco-Health Child Care® Program Manager at The Children’s Environmental Health Network. Through this position, she helps provide education and actionable and low-cost techniques that child care facilities can take to help protect their children and staff from hazardous substance exposures.  Jessica decided early in her career to focus on helping prevent humans and animals from coming into contact with hazardous substances. She worked at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for nine years. Jessica received her M.S. in Environmental Toxicology from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. She worked for the Texas Department of State Health Services in the Health Assessment and Toxicology program for five years as a Health Educator and Information Specialist. In this role, Jessica facilitated communication between agency scientists and the community so residents could better understand how to protect themselves from exposure to hazardous chemicals.

National Director for Eco-Healthy Child Care® at 

Hester Paul, M.S. has been the National Director for Eco-Healthy Child Care® at The Children’s Environmental Health Network since 2008. She is responsible for expanding the Eco-Healthy Child Care® program so that children throughout the nation benefit from the reduction of harmful environmental toxics in child care facilities. Prior to working for Children’s Environmental Health Network, Ms. Paul managed the nationalization of the EHCC program for Oregon Environmental Council (OEC). OEC, based in Portland, OR, originated the EHCC program in 2005.

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