Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 5: Facilities, Supplies, Equipment, and Environmental Health

5.1 Overall Requirements

5.1.1 General Location, Layout and Construction of the Facility Assessment of the Environment at the Site Location

Frequently Asked Questions/CFOC Clarifications


Date: 10/13/2011

Topic & Location:
Chapter 5
Standard Environmental Audit of Site Location

Has the recommendation for minimum distance between a playground site and hazards, such as electrical transformers and high voltage power lines changed since the CFOC, 2nd Ed., which stated 30 feet?

Yes, specific distances are no longer recommended as distances may differ according to local municipalities and states.
Please consult your local ordinance for appropriate information.

Content in the STANDARD was modified on 8/25/2016,01/23/2020 .


An assessment of the environment at an early care and education site location should be conducted before children receive care at the site. This includes assessment of the site prior to occupying an existing building, before renovating or constructing a building, and after a natural disaster. If an assessment identifies health and safety risks, and the risks cannot be wholly mitigated to protect children’s health, the site should be avoided as an early care and education location.

The assessment of the environment should evaluate safety hazards; potential environmental exposures from air, water, drinking water, and soil contamination; and noise. The assessment should include consideration of

  • Completed past environmental assessments at the site, if available
  • Land use or deed restrictions for the site
  • Previous uses of the site or previous activities in the nearby area and any potential environmental contaminants and safety hazards that may remain
  • Current nearby businesses or activities that may result in environmental exposures at the early care and education site
  • Source of drinking water for the early care and education facility and any potential contamination of the drinking water
  • Naturally occurring sources of potential contamination, such as radon or arsenic in soil or drinking water
  • Potential noise hazards in the community surrounding the site


Guidance for environmental assessments is available.1–3 If potential safety hazards or environmental exposures are identified, conduct further assessment or environmental sampling and mitigation, or avoid sites where children’s health could be compromised. Consider consulting with environmental health professionals, such as the state or county health department. State environmental agencies can also be important resources, particularly with regard to assessment, sampling, and mitigation. Keep on file any documentation of the site assessment, sampling, and remediation actions taken.


Evaluation of environmental health and safety risks associated with the physical location of an early care and education site can identify potential risks to children’s health and development and options for mitigating those risks.

A range of potential environmental exposures may exist. These include air pollution from nearby industries, businesses, or busy roadways; noise from an airport; drinking water contaminants; and contaminants in the soil such as arsenic, lead, or pesticides from past site use. Contamination in the soil or groundwater may enter indoor air spaces through a process known as vapor intrusion. The size of the area to look for possible exposure sources can vary by the route of exposure (air, water, drinking water, or soil) and the emissions’ characteristics. For example, a smelter may affect a larger area than a dry cleaner.

Children can be exposed to harmful substances contained in the indoor and outdoor air they breathe and water they drink. Additionally, children can be exposed to harmful substances in soil or dust when they play on the ground. Children have higher exposures to some harmful substances than adults due to their unique behavior, such as crawling and hand-to-mouth activity. They also eat, drink, and breathe more than adults do relative to their body size. In addition, children are much more vulnerable to harm from exposures to contaminated materials than adults because their bodies and organ systems are still developing. Disruption of this development could result in permanent damage with lifelong health and developmental consequences.4

The assessment of the environment at the site can identify issues that may affect children’s health. Methods to identify risks include reviewing the property history and understanding what the site was used for in the past, reviewing maps and records to determine what activities and contaminants may be nearby, visiting the site to look for indications of hazards and potential environmental exposures, reviewing environmental investigation and remediation reports previously prepared for the site, and consulting federal or state environmental agency staff about the regulatory status of the site.

Awareness of site-related environmental health risks and actions to mitigate or avoid those risks can reduce exposure to hazards that adversely affect health and development.1 For example, if an early care and education facility is considering locating in a building that also has a dry cleaner (or other business that uses hazardous chemicals), contaminated air could migrate into the early care and education site from the adjacent business. Options to reduce risk may include reducing migration of hazardous substances to non-harmful levels or choosing a different location for the early care and education facility. Another example is an early care and education facility proposed to be built on former agricultural land that has soil contamination from past pesticide use. To mitigate the potential exposure to chemicals in the soil, the contaminated soil could be removed, covered with pavement or artificial turf, or made inaccessible to children.


State or local environmental health programs may be able to help answer questions about identified concerns. In addition, guidance and tools have been created to assist in conducting assessments. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Choose Safe Places for Early Care and Education program has guidance to help ensure that environmental exposures are considered for early care and education facilities where children spend time.1 The US Environmental Protection Agency School Siting Guidelines, although aimed at schools, provide helpful information on types of environmental issues that are important to address to help protect children from environmental exposures.3(p53–64) The Environmental Law Institute has identified existing state policies for addressing environmental site hazards at early care and education facilities, highlighting policy considerations to advance safe siting.5


Eco-Healthy Child Care. Safe siting of child care facilities. Accessed August 21, 2019

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Inspection of Buildings Structurally Sound Facility Use of Basements and Below Grade Areas Structure Maintenance
  1. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Choose safe places for early care and education. Reviewed March 6, 2019. Accessed August 21, 2019

  2. Somers TS, Harvey ML, Rusnak SM. Making child care centers SAFER: a non-regulatory approach to improving child care center siting. Public Health Rep. 2011;126(Suppl 1):34–40

  3. US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Children’s Health Protection. School Siting Guidelines. Washington, DC: US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Children’s Health Protection; 2011. Accessed August 21, 2019

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health. Pediatric Environmental Health. Etzel RA, Balk SJ, eds. 4th ed. Itasca, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2019

  5. Environmental Law Institute. Addressing Environmental Site Hazards at Child Care Facilities: A Review of State Policy Strategies.Washington, DC: Environmental Law Institute; 2018. Published May 2018. Accessed August 21, 2019


Content in the STANDARD was modified on 8/25/2016,01/23/2020 .