SAFER Program works to identify environmental concerns in child care centers
At a ceremony today in Boston, the state’s Child Day Care Screening Assessment for Environmental Risk (SAFER) program received an Environmental Merit Award from the Region 1 federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The SAFER program, jointly administered by the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) and Office of Early Childhood (OEC), helps protect children from chemical exposures by identifying child care centers located on sites or in buildings contaminated with chemicals and hazardous materials. The program also works to prevent the opening of new child care centers on contaminated sites or in contaminated buildings.
Sharee Rusnak and Margaret Harvey, Epidemiologists with the DPH Environmental & Occupational Health Unit, along with staff from the Office of Early Childhood received the 2015 Environmental Merit Awards, which are awarded annually by EPA in recognition of exceptional work and commitment to the environment.
“Ensuring young children are safe, healthy, learning and thriving is our top priority,” said Dr. Myra Jones-Taylor, Commissioner of the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood. “An unhealthy environment can have a long-lasting impact on a child’s well-being. With the help of the SAFER Program, we are able to identify potential environmental hazards before they negatively impact our children, helping to keep them healthy and safe.”
“Children are at more risk from environmental hazards because their bodies are still developing and they tend to have more hand to mouth contact,” said DPH Commissioner Dr. Jewel Mullen. “The SAFER program helps ensure that children can learn and play in a safe environment by proactively identifying and addressing contamination at or near daycare centers and making sure new centers are located in places that are safe from hazardous chemicals.”
The SAFER Program identifies child care centers with potential environmental concerns by reviewing locations of child care centers and comparing the locations with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (DEEP) hazardous waste site list, through a questionnaire that gathers information about past uses of a child care center property or building, or inspecting sites of new child care centers for signs of past industrial use (e.g. drums, machinery, loading docks) and for current nearby businesses that may cause environmental exposures (e.g. dry cleaners, nail salons).
Locations identified as having a potential problem are referred to SAFER where the program works with DEEP, EPA and local health departments to quickly and efficiently abate any environmental contamination hazards.
To date, 37 child care centers have been referred to SAFER for evaluation, resulting in 14 site visits. Significant environmental concerns identified through the SAFER Program include a child care center with elevated levels of arsenic in its playground soil and a child care center located in a former funeral home where formaldehyde was used.
For more information about Connecticut’s SAFER Program, visit: www.ct.gov/dph/safer.