No way to treat our kids: Formaldehyde, flame retardants and other toxics exceed safe levels in air and dust in day care centers

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

A study conducted by the State of California [Update 10-26-12:  The study was funded by the California Air Resources Board and conducted by Asa Bradman and colleagues at the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at UC Berkeley] – described as “the first comprehensive study in child care centers to measure a broad spectrum of pollutants including many volatile organic chemicals, particles, and pesticides, and emerging pollutants such as flame retardants, phthalates and perfluorinated compounds” – has routinely detected dozens of these toxic contaminants in the air or floor dust present in such facilities. 

Some of the key findings include the following:

  • “Formaldehyde levels in 87% of the facilities exceeded the California acute and chronic reference exposure guideline levels for non-cancer health effects such as respiratory and sensory irritation (e.g. eyes, nose, throat, and lungs).”
  • “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.”  [These are levels calculated to result in a cancer risk of at least 1 per 100,000 people.]
  • “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.”
  • “Two VOCs commonly found in cleaners and personal care products, d-limonene and decamethylcyclopentasiloxane, had the highest concentrations compared to other chemical groups.”

The presumed sources of most if not all of these chemicals are everyday materials and products used to construct, furnish or clean these facilities.  Formaldehyde, for example, is used in hundreds of materials and products, including furniture, wood products, carpeting, paints, and household cleaning products.  California took action in 2007 to limit is use in pressed wood products, and Congress passed a law in 2010 to do the same.  (Unfortunately, the proposed regulations needed to implement the federal law – which Congress mandated be in place by January 1, 2013 – are stuck in regulatory review limbo at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB):  The proposed regulations were sent by EPA to OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) more than 170 days ago, on May 5 of this year, but remain under “pending review” by OIRA despite the requirement for OIRA to complete its reviews within 90 days.)

The larger problem exposed by the California study demands, of course, a far more comprehensive solution – TSCA reform.

 

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