Children can spend up to 12 hours a day in childcare programs. Because they are still developing their brain and organs, they need to be protected from harmful ingredients in cleaning products.
In some childcare centers, as soon as you walk in you can taste the chlorine in the air. Not only does this go against current guidelines that say if you can smell the bleach, you’ve used too much, but this also poses a health concern for young children and caregivers, especially those with asthma. Non-chlorine bleach or a non-toxic disinfectant can be used for select surfaces. Oftentimes, bleach is used for non-required surfaces and releases fumes into the air.
Another culprit to indoor air contaminants are floor cleaners. One childcare center produced a list that contained 11 different products for their floors alone! Rug and carpet cleaning products can contain perchloroethylene, which can damage the liver. Looking at alternative flooring that does not need stripping or waxing, or just using baking soda on the carpeting to absorb odors can do the trick.
Another popular item used in many childcare centers, hospitals and other facilities are antibacterial/microbial hand liquid soaps. Certainly, we don’t want to be infected with diseases or germs from other people, especially nosocomial infections. In most cases, washing hands with soap and water is effective – just remember to use the paper towels to shut the faucet and open the door in case the previous person didn’t do such a good job at hand washing. Many of the liquid soaps have triclosan, which has been linked to cancer.
These products are concerning for various reasons: A fire could cause these products to ignite or explode; many chemicals in these products were “grandfathered”, allowing for their use without any testing for health impacts; no one is testing the interactions of multiple chemical ingredients from different products; all building occupants are exposed to numerous chemical ingredients at any one time, adding to their body burden. In fact, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), in its National Exposures reports, found that American women and children have chemicals in their blood and urine, many of them from cleaning products.
A little research can help protect our health and the health of growing children. Ask current vendors/suppliers for the MSDS of current products and request that they carry Green Seal certified products (other certifiers are industry-based rather than independent). Create a policy that all products must meet Green Seal certification. Green Seal certifies products for their impacts on both human health and the environment. Places where children spend copious amounts of time should be safe and healthy. Non-toxic cleaning focuses on keeping people safe.
To learn more about our childcare initiative, visit our Programs page, the click on Children's Environmental Health under Health & the Environment.
By Teresa Méndez-Quigley
Women's Health & Environmental Network