Study Reveals High Levels of Formaldehyde in Child Day Care Centers
In a comprehensive survey from University of California (UC), Berkeley, researchers analyzed the indoor environmental quality of day care centers. In general, the results were very similar to most indoor environments except for formaldehyde. This and several other contaminants were found to exceed California state health guidelines. The source is believed to be the cleaning and sanitizing products and furniture coatings.
The study looked at 40 early childhood education facilities in Alameda and Monterey counties. Eight-hour air sample canisters were set up and then analyzed. The laboratory results showed that 35 of the 40 facilities had formaldehyde levels exceed the California guideline for safe exposure, which is 9 micrograms per cubic meter over eight hours.
Formaldehyde is an organic, colorless gas, formula CH2O, with an irritating odor. It is commonly used as a disinfectant and biocide. It is very useful for killing bacteria and fungi, and can even be applied to the human skin as a treatment for warts. However, the chemical is a known respiratory irritant and a listed carcinogen.
"Children are more vulnerable to the health effects of environmental contaminants, and many small children spend as much as 10 hours per day, five days a week, in child care centers," said study lead author Asa Bradman, associate director of the UC Berkeley Center for Environmental Research and Children's Health (CERCH). "We wanted to establish the baseline levels of environmental exposures in these early child care settings, and to provide information that could be used for any necessary policy changes." The 40 child care centers studied served a total of 1,764 children.
In California, the agency in charge of governing air quality is the California Air Resources Board (CARB). They have been developing and implementing regulatory programs to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds from consumer products. In 2008, CARB passed a rule to reduce formaldehyde emissions from building materials and furniture made from pressed wood, which is the greatest source of formaldehyde in indoor air.
The other major source is the cleaning products, such as d-limonene. This chemical is added to the cleaning products to give it that citrusy fresh scent.
The study authors stress proper ventilation and selecting safer cleaning products as effective ways to reduce contaminant levels indoors.
"These findings show that cleaning and sanitizing products impact air quality in child care settings," said Victoria Leonard, a scientist at UC San Francisco's Institute for Health and Aging. "Given that many young children have asthma or other respiratory problems, this study offers strong evidence to select safer cleaning products that have less volatile chemicals."
Link to CARB Formaldehyde Regulations
Day Care Center image via Shutterstock