Outdoor / Indoor Air Pollution
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Outdoor / Indoor Air Pollution
[Carbon monoxide] [Wall-to-wall carpeting] [Radon] [Asbestos]


Outdoor Air Pollution

Air quality has improved over the last 20 years, but air pollution is still an important health problem in many areas across the country, including most cities. The two most common pollutants are ozone (smog) and particulate matter (pollen, soot, dust, etc.). Children are very sensitive to the effects of air pollution. Children breathe more rapidly than do adults, and inhale more pollution per pound of body weight than adults. Therefore, their lungs have a greater chance for being exposed to harmful air pollutants. While exercising, children breathe more heavily and air pollution can be inhaled more deeply into the lungs. When children have a cold or are exercising, they often breathe through their mouths, taking in more pollutants than if the air was filtered through their noses. Because children's lungs are still developing, repeatedly breathing in polluted air may contribute to permanent lung damage.

You can help protect the children in your care from the harmful effects of air pollution by:

  • Not conducting outdoor activities on days when the air quality index in your area is 100 or above. In communities where air pollution is a problem, this index is reported by local radio and television stations and newspapers.
  • Scheduling outdoor activities for the early morning on smoggy days, especially in the summer. In many communities, summer smog levels peak in mid to late afternoon on hot days (over 90 degrees) when the air is stagnant.
  • Conducting outdoor activities away from areas with heavy traffic.

Indoor Air Pollution

Because children spend a great deal of time indoors, the quality of air indoors is important, too. The greatest threat to indoor air is tobacco smoke. Without exception, cigarette smoking should not be allowed anywhere in a child care facility by anyone. Exposing children to second-hand smoke:

  • harms children's lungs,
  • increases the risk of ear infections,
  • worsens the health of children with asthma, and
  • exposes children to numerous cancer-causing chemicals.

Carbon monoxide is a particularly dangerous indoor air pollutant. You can't see it or smell it. High levels of carbon monoxide can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and weakness. At very high levels, carbon monoxide poisoning can cause death. But you can easily prevent these problems by maintaining furnaces and other appliances in good repair and by installing carbon monoxide detectors. Carbon monoxide detectors look like smoke detectors, are inexpensive, and are sold in hardware stores.

Wall-to-wall carpeting can contribute to poor indoor air because it can trap all sorts of chemicals, serve as a breeding ground for molds and microscopic organisms such as dust mites, and is difficult to clean. You do not need to remove carpeting if no problem exists. But if you plan to build a new child care facility or remodel an old one, you should consider installing smooth floors such as vinyl.

Radon is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas formed by the breakdown of radium, a naturally occurring element in the earth. High radon levels have been found in every state. Radon can be found in soil, water, building materials, and natural gas. When a building settles, small cracks may form in the foundation. These cracks allow gases in the earth, including radon, to seep into a building. The greatest concentrations of radon are usually found in the basement or ground floor.

Radon breaks down into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As they break down further, these particles release small bursts of energy that can damage lung tissue. This can lead to lung cancer. Radon is the second leading cause of death from lung cancer in the United States. Only cigarette smoking causes more cases of death from lung cancer. Smokers are at a greater risk for lung cancer due to exposure to radon than are nonsmokers.

You need to determine if your facility or home has dangerous levels of radon by measuring the indoor air for radon. The amount of radon is measured in picocuries per liter of air. Testing for radon is very inexpensive. “Do it yourself” radon test kits are sold at hardware and other home improvement stores. Buy a kit that is certified by the Environmental Protection Agency or your state. You need to buy a radon test kit to measure the radon (in picocuries per liter of air) in your child care facility. Radon can be measured over different time periods ranging from 2 days to 1 year. Follow the manufacturer's instructions and mail the detector to the designated test laboratory. The laboratory will mail you the results. If the results are 4 picocuries per liter of air or higher, you need to take action to reduce the radon.

For more information on how to reduce your radon health risk, contact your state radon office or call 1-800-SOS-RADON (English) or 1-800-SALUD-1-2 (Spanish).

Asbestos is a fire-resistant material that, in the past, was sprayed on ceilings, pipes, and other surfaces in buildings. Over time, asbestos becomes crumbly and flakes into a fine dust that hangs in the air. Asbestos is no longer used in new construction because it was found to cause serious lung problems and cancer. These problems can develop as late as 20 to 40 years after a person has been exposed to it. To prevent exposure to asbestos, the asbestos must be either sprayed with a sealant, enclosed with newly constructed walls or ceilings, or removed. Only qualified workers should remove asbestos. No one else should be present during the removal process. If you suspect your child care facility may have asbestos-lined building materials, contact your local health department to obtain information on how to have the air in your facility sampled and analyzed.


Note: This information is not intended to take the place of your state's or locality's child care regulations and laws. In every case, the laws and regulations of the city, county, and state in which the child care facility is located must be carefully followed even if they differ from these recommendations.

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