Finding great childcare requires a bit of detective work and delicate balancing as parents weigh priorities. Consider placing environmental health near the top of your checklist to minimize children’s exposure to harmful chemicals. Here are ten questions to ask.
1. How are pests managed, both inside and outside?
Prioritize providers who answer this question by emphasizing prevention and discussing an integrated pest management approach. If a pesticide must be used as a last resort, check that your daycare follows state regulations to notify parents 48 hours in advance and chooses a least-toxic option.
2. Is the provider informed about lead issues?
Choose facilities where the tap water has been tested for lead and where only cold water is used for cooking and making formula. If the building was built before 1978, ask if the paint has been tested for lead. Look out for flaking or chipping paint around windows and doors.
3. Are measures taken to maintain good indoor air quality (IAQ)?
Look for adequate ventilation, with indoor air exchanged regularly for outdoor air. Avoid places that mask IAQ issues with air fresheners. Give preference to centers that choose solid wood or hard plastic furnishings rather than PVC/vinyl or upholstered furnishings. Likewise, select providers who repair any water damage promptly to prevent mold growth and who use low-VOC products when painting or repairs are needed.
4. Are cots or safer mats used for nap times?
Prioritize centers that use cots or safer mats that are free of flame retardants and have non-vinyl covers. Fire retardants used in some mats are released into the air and dust children breathe and touch.
5. How is the facility cleaned?
Which cleaning products are used? Give preference to providers who clean for health—damp mopping rather than sweeping, using a HEPA vacuum on area rugs and staying on top of dust, a health hazard. Safer are third-party certified cleaning products without fragrance such as those endorsed by EPA’s Safer Choice program. Facilities that do not use wall-to-wall carpeting are preferable.
6. When and how are hands washed?
Choose providers who steer clear of antibacterial soaps and products with triclosan. Additionally, look for the use of fragrance-free soap products.
7. What is the policy on disinfecting?
You want to find daycare that follows best practices — disinfectants used only for their intended purpose and according to label instructions. Look for balance, providers who meet state regulations while understanding that not everything needs disinfecting.
8. Are plastics used responsibly?
You want to observe that cups and bottles are BPA-free, that toys and furniture are not made of PVC/vinyl and that food is not heated in plastic containers.
9. Are appropriate art supplies used?
You want to see that only art supplies intended for children are used and that household products are not repurposed as art materials. Check out our tips for safer art supplies.
10. If food is provided, how is it chosen?
Prioritize providers who choose organic or pesticide-free food, especially those found to often have high pesticide residues including apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, nectarines, grapes, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherries, tomatoes, hot peppers, kale, and collard greens.