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Choose Safe Places: A Resource for Early Childhood Educators

As an early childhood educator, you want what’s best for the children in your care. You teach them, help them grow, and keep them safe from things that can hurt them. But how do you keep them safe from hazards that aren’t easy to see, like harmful chemicals that might be in the air, water, soil, and dust? There are many things you can do—and it all starts with choosing a safe location!

The voluntary “Choose Safe Places” program helps early care and education programs choose locations that are safe from environmental hazards. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Bureau of Environmental Health (DPH) offers free resources and assistance to help you keep children safe from toxic chemicals. Call us at (617) 624-5757 or visit us online to get started.

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Harmful chemicals can pose a hidden danger.

Children and adults could be exposed to harmful chemicals from sources such as:

  • Outdoor air pollution
  • Chemicals used indoors
  • Contaminated soil and groundwater
  • Polluted drinking water

These chemicals can get into our bodies through breathing, eating or drinking, or skin contact. You might not think of chemical exposure as a problem at an early education and care program, but sometimes, harmful chemicals can come from nearby businesses or activities, or they could have been left behind by activities that took place in the past.

Children are more sensitive to harmful chemicals than adults.

Children’s developing brains and growing bodies make them more vulnerable to the effects of harmful chemicals. Children are exposed more than adults because they put their hands in their mouths, play on the ground, and drink more water and breathe more air for their size. Exposure to toxic chemicals can disrupt development, learning, and behavior. It can also contribute to diseases later in life. That’s why DPH is working with the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) and early childhood educators to give every child a safe place to learn, play, and grow.

You can take steps to check for hazards.

DPH encourages every new early education and care program to consider their location carefully. DPH's voluntary program can help you look for possible exposures to environmental contamination, such as:

Former uses of the site

Former uses might have left harmful substances. For example, dry cleaners, factories, gas stations, and dump sites might have contaminated the soil and groundwater. Even if you don’t use the groundwater, you should know that certain pollutants can vaporize and enter indoor air through cracks in the foundation.

What you can do: Find out how your building and nearby properties were used in the past. If your building was built before 1978, find out if it has been inspected for lead paint. DPH can help you look up your property history and get a lead inspection.

Nearby sites and activities

Do you know your neighbors? Certain activities nearby could pollute the air, leave chemicals on the ground that can wash onto your land, or pollute groundwater that could flow under your property.

What you can do: Learn about nearby businesses that use chemicals, such as dry cleaners, nail salons, gas stations, factories, and farms. Also note highways, transportation facilities, and hazardous waste sites (like Superfund sites). DPH can help with your search.

Access to safe drinking water

Clean water is crucial, especially for infants who drink formula made with tap water. Public water supplies are regulated and tested, but private wells are the owner’s responsibility to test. Also, lead from old pipes could leach into the water.

What you can do: If you get water from a private well, test it regularly. In fact, EEC regulations require well water testing. If your water comes from a public supplier, check the yearly water quality report. Find out if your plumbing contains lead. Test for lead in your water. DPH can help you learn about your water quality and testing your water.

Naturally occurring contamination

Some contaminants occur naturally in air, water, and soil. Radon gas is a common natural hazard. It can seep from underground into indoor air.

What you can do: Test your building for radon. DPH can help you learn how.

Checklists and tools are available.

  • DPH has developed a property questionnaire to help you collect information about your location and consider environmental hazards.
  • The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has a list of recommendations to help ensure that early education and care programs are located in safe places.

DPH can help.

If you don't know if harmful chemicals may be present at a location you are considering for your early education program, we can help you understand your options. Just send us your questionnaire, and we can look up information about your property and nearby activities, share what we find, and offer recommendations to help.

Additional Resources



(617) 624-5777


250 Washington St.
7th Floor
Boston, MA 02108