Project at a Glance

Title: Environmental exposures in early childhood education environments

Principal Investigator / Author(s): Bradman, Asa

Contractor: UC Berkeley

Contract Number: 08-305

Research Program Area: Health & Exposure

Topic Areas: Health Effects of Air Pollution, Indoor Air Quality, Vulnerable Populations


Little information is available about environmental quality in child care facilities. Environmental characteristics and contaminant levels in air and dust were determined in 40 California early childhood education (ECE) facilities. Average temperature and relative humidity were within ASHRAE standards; however, 7.5% of the facilities had ventilation rates below recommended levels. Over 40 volatile organic compounds (VOC) were detected in air. Two VOCs commonly found in cleaners and personal care products, d-limonene and decamethylcyclopentasiloxane, had the highest concentrations compared to other chemical groups, with medians of 33 and 51 μg/m3, respectively. For these and most other chemicals, health-based dose or exposure benchmarks were not available, but when they were available, estimated exposures were usually below levels of concern. However, formaldehyde levels exceeded the California 8-hour Reference Exposure Level (REL) and chronic REL in 87.5% of facilities. Acetaldehyde concentrations were lower than the California RELs, but exceeded the U.S. EPA Reference Concentration (RfC) in 30% of facilities. In most facilities, levels of formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, chloroform, benzene, or ethylbenzene exceeded child-specific Safe Harbor Levels computed by the report authors based on Proposition 65 guidelines for carcinogens. Phthalates, flame retardants, pesticides, perfluorinated compounds, and lead were also frequently detected in dust and/or air. Child dose estimates from ingestion of dust for two brominated flame retardants (BDE-47 and -99) exceeded the non-cancer U.S. EPA reference health dose (RfD) in 10.3% of facilities for children < 1 year old. PM10 concentrations collected over approximately 8 hours exceeded the level of the 24-hour California Ambient Air Quality Standard (CAAQS) in 46% of ECE facilities. The screening risk assessment did not consider mixed exposures. Overall, findings suggest that ECE environments are similar to other indoor environments such as schools and residences, and that mitigation strategies may be warranted to reduce exposures to some chemicals, especially formaldehyde. More research is needed to identify sources of toxicants and support outreach efforts to improve environmental quality.

For questions regarding this research project, including available data and progress status, contact: Research Division staff at (916) 445-0753

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