Children’s Environmental Health Day 2017: Choosing Safe Places for Early Care & Education

Today, October 12, 2017, marks the second annual Children’s Environmental Health (CEH) Day. Launched as a means to create a children’s environmental health movement and build a strong network of advocates, CEH Day reminds us of the urgent need to put children and families back into the forefront of our nation’s actions regarding health and environment. In the below blog post, members of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) discuss how ATSDR supports local efforts to protect children’s environmental health.

By: LCDR Dana Robison, Environmental Health Scientist, MPH; Loretta Asbury, Health Communications Specialist, M.Ed., and Teresa Durden, MPA, Senior Public Health Analyst, ATSDR

For more than three decades, ATSDR has worked with local health departments nationwide, and with the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), to provide assistance and resources in communities affected by harmful exposure to natural and man-made hazardous substances. Through ATSDR’s Partnership to Promote Local Efforts to Reduce Environmental Exposure (APPLETREE) program, we have provided funding, technical support, and guidance to protect the public’s health.

Over time, we’ve learned that in most states, licensing requirements for early care and education (ECE) facilities, such as nurseries, schools, and daycare centers, do not consider environmental exposures. To address this issue, ATSDR developed a strategy – Choose Safe Places for Early Care and Education (CSPECE) – to help public health professionals in state and local health departments and others learn how they can protect children where they learn and play.

Choose Safe Places for Early Care and Education

Even when ECE programs meet current state licensing regulations, they may be located in places where children and staff can be exposed to environmental contamination. For example, a new ECE program might inadvertently open in a chemically contaminated industrial building that was never cleaned up, or next door to a business using harmful chemicals. Because children are still growing and developing, they are uniquely susceptible to health threats from environmental exposures. These early exposures can trigger diseases and disrupt development, learning, and behavior.

Further, the mere presence of contaminants at an ECE program can cause stress, worry, and fear among staff and parents, even if exposures are not significant. It can also lead to care being disrupted. Ensuring that ECE programs are safely located is vital to securing the health, economic, and social well-being of families that rely on them and people that staff them.

As such, ATSDR created the CSPECE strategy to encourage thoughtful consideration about where to locate ECE facilities. CSPECE gives towns, cities, and states a framework to adopt practices that will make sure such facilities are located away from chemical hazards. It also offers models for cooperation between different professionals and agencies, demonstrating that adding a consideration of environmental health concerns to licensing requirements doesn’t necessarily require additional funding or staff.

In 2017, ATSDR incorporated CSPECE as a key activity in APPLETREE, a cooperative agreement program that supports 25 state health departments. Funded grantees will implement programs to assess the current status of early care and education and environmental exposures in their state, develop partnerships with key stakeholders, implement policies and practices to ensure safe siting, and evaluate their chosen approaches.

To support this work, ATSDR is providing expert advice and assistance to APPLETREE grantees and other state health departments. In addition, the agency recently released the CSPECE Guidance Manual, along with a suite of related tools and resources to help states and others learn how they can protect children where they learn and play. The guidance manual describes the environmental health implications of siting child care and early learning facilities, explains the elements of ensuring sites are safe, and offers tips and tools for health departments interested in building a child care safe siting program. This manual, along with fact sheets, checklists and other materials, is now available online and can be downloaded for free.

For more information or guidance on implementing CSPECE in your jurisdiction, please contact your state health department or review the available resources page on the ATSDR website. To learn more about efforts to protect children’s environmental health in our nation, join ATSDR and other organizations at the #CEHDay Twitter chat today at 2pm ET.

About Kim Rodgers

Kim Rodgers serves as a Communications Specialist at NACCHO. Her work includes promoting local health departments' best practices, as well as partner tools and resources, in infectious disease and preparedness through NACCHO's communications channels, storytelling, and outreach to various audiences.

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