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30-10-2012 | General practice | Article

Formaldehyde levels ‘concerning’ in US child care facilities


California Environmental Protection Agency website

medwireNews: A study of 40 child care facilities in California, USA, has revealed that while levels of most pollutants are not a health concern, those of some are worryingly high.

The worst offender identified was formaldehyde, a known respiratory irritant found in furniture, laminated wood, and clothing, levels of which exceeded the recommended limit of 9 µg/m3 over 8 hours in 35 (87%) of the facilities tested.

Formaldehyde is emitted from combustion sources, such as wood burners or gas stoves, and can also form when chemicals such as D-limonene in cleaning products react with ozone and other compounds, note the researchers.

Indoor concentrations of particulate matter 10 µm or less in diameter (PM10), also a known respiratory irritant, were above the 24-hour California Ambient Air Quality Standard in 46% of the facilities tested. In addition, levels of brominated flame retardants (PBDEs -47 and -99), thought to disrupt hormone function in children, were higher than those recommended by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 10% of the facilities tested.

Small amounts of lead and cadmium were found in floor dust samples from several facilities. Although these cannot be classified as "safe" levels, as the US EPA policy is that no lead exposure is safe, they are comparable to those found in many homes and are unlikely to constitute a significant health risk, say Asa Bradman (Center for Environmental Research and Children's Health, Berkley, California) and colleagues who carried out the study.

Finally, the team also found elevated levels of some cleaning products in the centers.

"Children are more vulnerable to the health effects of environmental contaminants, and many small children spend as much as 10 hours per day, 5 days a week, in child care centers," said Bradman in a press statement.

"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 California EPA suggests that child care facilities can request and purchase low-formaldehyde products and furniture to try to reduce exposure levels of children in their care. They also advise maximizing ventilation while cooking with gas by using extractor fans or opening windows, frequent cleaning to reduce dust levels, use of "green" cleaning products, and minimizing use of pesticides.

medwireNews ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2012

By Helen Albert, Senior medwireNews Reporter

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