CONTACT: Erika Schreder or Carina Wells, Toxic-Free Future | 206.632.1545
OR James Boyd, Indiana University O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs | 812.856.5490
(Seattle, WA) – Toddlers and young children spend much of their day crawling, playing and climbing. For parents and childcare providers, that means constant mopping and dusting to keep floors and furniture clean and safe. But a new peer-reviewed study suggests high levels of dangerous contaminants known as PFAS are finding their way into childcare centers through the very products intended to keep children healthy. According to a Washington State proposal, regulators tasked with phasing out PFAS aren’t planning to look at those products—yet.
The study is one of the first to examine PFAS exposure risks in indoor settings other than people’s homes. It found that PFAS are abundant in childcare environments which leads to “significant early-life exposures.”
“We know these toxic chemicals have made their way into our water, our air and even our food,” said Erika Schreder, Science Director at Seattle-based Toxic-Free Future and one of the study’s authors. “Now we see PFAS have made their way into the places our children spend time learning, discovering and exploring,” she added.
“Children are especially vulnerable to environmental exposures because of how quickly they’re developing,” said Dr. Amina Salamova, one of the researchers from Indiana University. “This study shows children are exposed to PFAS in places where they spend significant amount of time such as their home, their childcare and even in cars. These early exposures could have harmful effects later in life.”
While children typically spend the most amount of time in their own home, they spend an average of 7-10 hours a day in a childcare facility, making those facilities a significant potential source of exposure.
The researchers analyzed nap mats and dust for 37 types of PFAS chemicals at seven childcare facilities in the greater Seattle area and one in West Lafayette, Indiana. Researchers recruited a variety of facilities including a former church, a facility with multiple classrooms and a former home. Only one facility had carpeting. All the centers were vacuumed or mopped daily.
Researchers found 28 different PFAS compounds in the dust samples they collected. Schreder said they were surprised that some PFAS were present in the childcare dust at levels higher than in homes in the U.S. and Canada. Even more surprising was that the dust contained unexpectedly high levels of fluorotelomer sulfonates, a class of PFAS used in cleaners, waxes and polishes.
“These findings provide concerning new clues about sources of exposure. What’s especially concerning here is that our children are being exposed to PFAS – not despite all our cleaning, but because of it,” said Schreder. “If these floor products are contaminating childcare facilities, it could mean they’re contaminating hospitals, schools and senior care facilities.”
In 2018 and 2019, Washington State led the nation in tackling the PFAS contamination crisis by passing laws to phase out the use of PFAS in food packaging, firefighting foam and other products. Among the bills passed, the Safer Products for Washington Act is now the nation’s strongest law regulating several toxic chemicals – including PFAS – in products manufactured or sold in Washington State.
The state Departments of Ecology and Health are currently finalizing a list of product categories for action and accepting public comments through March 2. But floor wax and polish aren’t on their list. Neither are water-resistant apparel or upholstery. For PFAS, the departments have proposed carpets and carpet-care treatments as the only two products for review.
Schreder isn’t the only one concerned that Ecology and Health are ignoring PFAS exposure from multiple sources.
“There is nothing more important to us than helping our children thrive in a safe, welcoming and nurturing environment, said Susan Lee, operations director at the Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA) Early Learning Center in Lake City. “These contaminating materials put all of our children at risk, especially in communities of color and low-income communities where we already face so many environmental hazards. I appreciate these scientists who are looking out for our children and now I hope state and federal leaders look into their findings and do what’s necessary to keep our kids safe.”
“Our state regulators are only looking at one piece of the puzzle and really missing the bigger picture. Once a PFAS chemical is out in the environment, it doesn’t go away. Ecology and Health must turn off the tap as soon as possible to prevent continued and increasing contamination of our air, land and water,” Schreder said.
Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a class of chemicals that have been widely used for decades in firefighting foam and a range of products such as water- and stain-resistant carpeting, upholstery, clothing, and food packaging, as well as cleaning products and cookware. PFAS chemicals are known to leach into food from packaging and evaporate from consumer products and get into indoor air and dust. PFAS have contaminated the drinking water sources for millions of people across the nation, including Washington State. These highly persistent chemicals are linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and harm to the immune system.
People trying to reduce their exposure to PFAS should avoid the following types of products:
- Foods packaged or served in grease-repellant packaging such as microwave popcorn bags
- Stain-resistance treatments for clothes, shoes, furniture, luggage and carpets
- Teflon and non-stick cookware
- Personal care products with ingredients that include the words “fluoro” or “perfluoro.” These can be found in dental floss and cosmetics such as nail polish, moisturizers and eye make-up.
- Cleaning products that contain perfluorinated or polyfluorinated ingredients