Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

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

5.2 Quality of the Outdoor and Indoor Environment

5.2.9 Prevention and Management of Toxic Substances Construction and Remodeling

Content in the STANDARD was modified on 05/17/2016 and 09/27/2022.

Early care and education programs should protect children and staff from injury or illness caused by building construction and renovation.

Programs should do the following:

  • Review applicable zoning, building, fire codes; environmental assessments; child care licensing; and other governmental requirements before beginning a project.1 For more information on building construction, see the ATSDR Chose Safe Places Program.
  • Schedule construction, renovation, repair, painting, or other updates of facilities when no children are present (e.g., weekends) if possible.
  • Keep the areas undergoing construction, renovation, repair, painting, or other updates separate from the areas that children are using.
  • Keep the required minimum number of exit/escape paths while the work is being done.
  • Choose products and methods that prevent exposure to fumes, dust, paint chips, and other safety hazards, especially if work must occur while children are present, by:
    • Minimizing use of shared pathways between work areas and children’s areas to reduce spread of dust and debris 
    • Using nontoxic materials or the least toxic materials available
    • Using only paint and surface-coating materials that are labeled for residential use, not industrial use
    • Using low volatile organic compounds (VOC) paints and materials, or odorless, VOC-free products in child care areas 
    • Ventilating painted areas until fully dry and odor-free before allowing children in the areas

All early care and education programs in facilities built before 1978, including home-based programs, should reduce potential exposure to lead dust contamination,2 by: 

  • Having a certified lead inspector or certified risk assessor find lead-based paint hazards before beginning renovation, including painting
  • Consulting a state or local childhood lead poisoning prevention program, public health agency, or certified risk assessor to decide on the best steps for lead hazard control work if the inspection finds lead in interior or exterior paint, soil, or water
  • Using a certified lead-safe contractor/renovator for current and future repairs, renovation, or painting Being aware of any construction and renovation plans, and sharing plans with ECE staff and families

Home-based ECE programs in buildings built before 1978 should also review The Lead-Safe Toolkit for Home-Based Child Care before planning or starting construction and renovation projects.3

Construction and renovation of early care and education program facilities must comply with all applicable building and zoning codes of the state and locality, as well as any federal requirements. Depending on the extent of the project, consulting with an architect or qualified contractor may be needed to make sure the project will be safe.1

During a project, programs must protect children from potential injury or illness from exposure to project equipment, materials, activities, fumes, dust, and debris by following the steps in this standard. Many construction and renovation products have VOCs that are released as gases from some products (e.g., sealants). These gases can cause eye irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, nose bleeds, fatigue, and dizziness.4 Some VOCs cause significant health problems such as asthma.5,6 

Lead was often added to paint before 1978, so older buildings are likely to have lead-based paint.2 Lead has toxic effects on the nervous system, and there is no safe level of lead exposure for young children.7,8,9 Those under age 6 are at the greatest risk for the extremely harmful effects of lead poisoning on health, intelligence, and behavior.10,11 For a pre-1978 facility, federal law requires hiring firms, contractors, electricians, plumbers, or maintenance staff who are lead-safe certified and trained in lead-safe work practices:
When work will disturb painted surfaces (more than 6 square feet of interior surfaces or 20 square feet of exterior painted surfaces)
When windows will be replaced
This federal requirement also applies to the renovation of home-based ECE programs (see The Lead-Safe Toolkit for Home-Based Child Care). 

Before renovation begins, contractors must give the EPA pamphlet The Lead-Safe Certified Guide to Renovate Right to early care and education programs in the building, and must give general project information to families of children under age 6 who live or are served in the building.2 

For more information on lead hazards in early care and education programs, see Standard Testing for and Remediating Lead Hazards.
When it is not possible to schedule construction and renovation activities outside the hours of program operation, or children live in a home-based program, temporary barriers can be put up around the work area to limit children’s access. Plastic vapor barrier sheeting may be used to reduce, but not totally prevent, dust moving into areas where children are present. For a useful resource, see Indoor Air Quality, by the California Childcare Health Program, University of California San Francisco.12,13

To find qualified lead-safe firms and contractors, also known as RRP (renovation, repair, and painting) contractors, see the EPA service Locate Certified Inspection, Risk Assessment, and Abatement Firms.13 A list of lead-safe work practices, from investigation and planning through clean-up and waste disposal, that contractors and renovators must follow is in Steps to Lead-Safe Renovation, Repair and Painting, by the EPA.14 
Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Inspection of Buildings Structurally Sound Facility Radon Concentrations Preventing Exposure to Asbestos or Other Friable Materials Treatment of CCA Pressure-Treated Wood Testing for and Remediating Lead Hazards Indoor and Outdoor Equipment, Materials, and Furnishing Surfaces of Equipment, Furniture, Toys, and Play Materials Inaccessibility of Hazardous Equipment
  1. Fund for Quality. Childcare center design development recommendations. Fund for Quality Web site. Published July 2017. Accessed December 17, 2021.

  2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The lead-safe certified guide to renovate right. Web site. Accessed December 21, 2021.

  3. Children’s Environmental Health Network, National Center for Health Housing, National Association for Family Child Care. Lead-safe toolkit for home-based child care. National Center for Healthy Housing Web site. Published 2019. Accessed December 21, 2021.

  4. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Volatile organic compounds’ impact on indoor air quality. Web site. Accessed December 20, 2021.

  5. Alford KL, Kumar N. Pulmonary health effects of indoor volatile organic compounds¾a meta-analysis. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(4):1578. doi:10.3390/ijerph18041578

  6. Saif NT, Janecki JM, Wanner A, Colin AA, Kumar N. Pediatric asthma attack and home paint exposure. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(8):4118. doi:10.3390/ijerph18084118

  7. American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Environmental Health. Prevention of childhood lead toxicity. Pediatrics. 2016;138(1):e20161493. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1493
  8. Ruckart PZ, Jones RL, Courtney JG, et al. Update of the blood lead reference value - United States, 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021;70(43):1509-1512. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7043a4

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lead poisoning prevention. Web site. Updated November 4, 2021. Accessed December 20, 2021.

  10. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Learn about lead. Web site. Accessed December 21, 2021.

  11. Delgado CF, Ullery MA, Jordan M, Duclos C, Rajagopalan S, Scott K. Lead exposure and developmental disabilities in preschool-aged children. J Public Health Manag Pract. 2018;24(2):e10-e17. doi:10.1097/PHH.0000000000000556

  12. California Childcare Health Program. Indoor air quality. University of California San Francisco. California Childcare Health Program Web site. Revised June 2016. Accessed January 7, 2022.

  13. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Locate certified inspection, risk assessment, and abatement firms. Web site. Accessed January 7, 2022.

  14. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Steps to lead-safe repair, renovation, and painting. Web site. Updated March 2021. Accessed January 7, 2022.


Content in the STANDARD was modified on 05/17/2016 and 09/27/2022.