Childcare Provider Liability: The Need For Clean Indoor Air


A study from UC Berkley reinforced the need for childcare providers to remain alert to environmental concerns and the potential for liability. Researchers found high levels of formaldehyde, a carcinogenic respiratory irritant linked to hormonal problems and congenital diseases, in California daycare centers. In the study,Environmental Exposures in Early Childhood Education Environments, researchers examined indoor air pollution and contaminants in 40 California daycare centers and preschools, effecting over 1,700 children. Thirty-five sites had levels of formaldehyde greater than nine micrograms per cubic meter over eight hours, which exceeds California's state guidelines for safe exposure. Children typically inhale more air relative to their body weight than adults, rendering them more susceptible to the health impacts posed by formaldehyde. Compounding the threat of exposure to children is the fact that many children spend seven to ten hours a day in daycare centers, five days a week. In cold weather climates, children may spend about two-thirds of that time inside buildings. This study may support legal causes of action against childcare providers for failing to provide clean indoor air.

The California findings were based on measurements of indoor air and floor dust while children were present at daycare centers located in a mix of urban and rural settings. Researchers detected a host of chemicals at the daycare facilities, though the formaldehyde levels in particular were deemed notable because they were in excess of state guidelines. Air monitoring also revealed the presence of ultrafine particles, which can be inhaled deeply into lungs due to their microscopic size. While ultrafine particles have been associated with serious health effects, including airway inflammation, their health impacts are not well understood and are not subject to regulatory guidelines. The study concluded that chemical levels found in the daycare centers, though problematic, were actually typical of many indoor environments.

Formaldehyde is a popular ingredient contained in glues used in furniture made from composite wood products such as pressboard, plywood, and particle board. It can also be emitted from wood burning and gas stoves, paints, carpets, and fabrics, including draperies and or wrinkle-free clothing. The study did not pinpoint the sources of all formaldehyde emissions at the childcare facilities.

Rules adopted in 2008 by the California Air Resources Board limit the amount of formaldehyde permissible in indoor air over 24 hour periods under the California Ambient Air Quality Standard. The law is currently being phased in. Therefore, some building materials and furnishings still on the market in California emit formaldehyde in excess of the standard. As a result of the legislation and increasing market demand, new pressed wood products are being introduced to the market that emit little or no formaldehyde. Low emitting products, for example, are labeled as CARB Phase 2 (P2). Composite wood products with the lowest emissions are typically labeled as Ultra Low Emitting Formaldehyde (ULEF) or No Added Formaldehyde (NAF).

Just as manufacturers and distributors of products need to be aware of national and regional regulatory standards, so do premises owners. In many states, business and premises owners can be held equally liable for adverse health effects claimed by employees and business invitees, which include children in childcare facilities. To learn more about how emission standards may impact your risk for litigation, please contact David Governo at [email protected]