When eco-minded people become parents, it seems like they frequently become even bigger green freaks. I know that’s been true for my partner and me since we embarked on the journey to parenthood last year – decisions around our house that used to be made based on a variety of factors have become green mandates. I admit to having once spent most of a Saturday night early in my pregnancy researching every personal care product we use on the Cosmetics Safety Database and finding replacements for the bad-scorers.
So for parents who’ve gone VOC-free on the paint, made the switch to organic foods, gotten pesticides and other toxic chemicals out of the house… what about the other places the kids hang out all day long? Like their school? Child care center?
While there is a concerted effort going on around the country to clean up hazardous pollutants in our schools, child care centers seem to be lagging behind. I work at Toxic Free North Carolina, who just put out a new report (for which I can’t take any credit): Avoiding Big Risks for Small Kids, which takes a look at how child care centers are managing pests in our state – and reveals a less-than-heartening picture:
_ Most of the child care centers surveyed use old-fashioned, higher-risk practices like broadcast pesticide spraying inside the facilities. Even when the center contracted with professionals, the survey found both widespread use of pesticides, and a troubling lack of safety precautions like warning signs or safety information provided about the chemicals being used.
_ The survey also found very limited adoption of safer practices, such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The US EPA (and plenty of other agencies) recommends IPM for schools, child care centers and other sensitive areas because it focuses on preventing pest problems and minimizing pesticide spraying. In contrast with schools, at least in North Carolina where IPM in schools is required, child care centers have hardly begun to adopt this common-sense practice. Less than 24% of child care providers in the NC survey reported using practices that qualify as IPM – but those who did also reported fewer serious pest problems.
So what can parents do about this? The report comes with a list of five questions that parents can ask their child care providers to find out what they’re doing. It also includes a resource for child care providers on how to contract for safer pest management in their facilities. The bottom line is, start asking questions! The report makes it clear that child care providers just don’t know enough about the hazards of mixing kids and pesticides – or that there is a better way. It’s up to us parents to get them thinking about it.