Reducing Environmental Exposures: The Seven Best Kid-Friendly Practices

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Dear Parent/Caregiver:

The purpose of this brochure is to increase your awareness about exposure to chemicals around you. Some exposures may be more obvious than others. Scientists continue to study the relationship between childhood illness or disability and environmental chemicals. In the meantime, applying good habits around the home or school makes good sense. The more you can reduce unnecessary exposures to commonly used chemicals or other hazardous substances, the healthier the environment becomes for you and your children.

Providing a Healthy environment for our children is a goal we all share. Children are at greater risk from chemicals found in food, water, dirt and air for several reasons:

  • They're more at risk because, for their size, they eat, drink and breathe more than grown-ups
  • They're more at risk because they crawl on floors, play in dirt and put their hands in their mouths
  • They may be more at risk because their bodies are still developing

1. Keep It Out

The best way to reduce exposure to chemicals is to keep them out of your surroundings. Here are some examples1:

The exposure can come from... What can I do?
Secondhand smoke Go outside if you have to smoke and encourage other smokers to do so too.
Contaminants tracked in from outside such as lawn pesticides, lead dust from exterior paint, etc. Use a doormat, remove shoes at the door, plant shrubs and grass to keep dust levels down.
Chemical drift from nearby pesticide applications Close windows during treatment and then open them about 30 minutes later for fresh air. Cover children's play toys and equipment prior to applications if possible, or hose down exposed items before re-use.
Gasoline and kerosene fumes from lawnmowers,snowblowers and other power equipment Store equipment in outside shed or garage and use proper storage containers.
Release of mercury from broken thermometers Clean up spills properly2 (never vacuum a spill); replace mercury thermometers with digital types and dispose of old ones properly.
Chemicals from backyard burning. Smoke from burning trash can contain harmful chemicals such as arsenic, carbon monoxide, cyanide, dioxins, formaldehyde and PCBs. Stop backyard burning.3 Reduce waste, re-use, recycle and compost when possible. Dispose of remaining trash at a transfer station or with a sanitation service.

2. "Air" On The Side of Safety Home SAFE Home

Chemicals or other contaminants in the house are best reduced by ventilating with fresh air, or using exhaust fans if necessary/4 Here are some examples:

The exposure can come from... What can I do?
Breathing chemicals from paints, wood finishing products and cleaning products When possible, either use these products outdoors or open windows. Schedule painting and finishing projects during warm months when windows can be left open.
Breathing chemicals from new carpets or building materials Ask the merchant to air out new carpet before installing or delivering it; keep the windows open if possible until the smell has disappeared.
Some materials used for adult hobbies, such as glues and paints with strong odors, lead for stained glass work, etc. Keep children away from hobby areas and make sure there is plenty of ventilation when you are using the materials. Store chemicals in tight containers and keep them out of children's reach.

3. Less Is Better

For many products, less toxic alternatives or methods are available. Using less of any chemical product is often desirable. Here are some examples:

The exposure can come from... What can I do?
Cleaning products Have as few products as necessary, and use them sparingly. Consider less toxic or lower strength alternatives. Resist the use of anti-bacterial products, as they encourage the growth of stronger germs.
Pesticides Many pests can be controlled without the use of chemical pesticides. Keep pests under control. Learn about Integrated Pest Management5 techniques that focus on preventative pest control and use chemical pesticides as a last resort.
Insect repellents Use the lowest concentration of a repellent that is needed and then use only as much as you need for your situation.6 Do not let young children apply their own repellent. Spray repellent on your hands and then apply to children, avoiding the face.

4. Water, Water Everywhere

We know frequent washing is a great way to keep germs at bay. Get into the habit of washing hands, toys, fruits, vegetables and surfaces around the home, as it also reduces potential chemical exposures.

The exposure can come from... What can I do?
Contaminants on and in food, such as bacteria, pesticides and other chemicals Wash fruits and vegetables. Rinse meat, chicken and fish before you cook it. Also, skin and trim fish, since some contaminants concentrate in fatty tissues. For more information about sportfish contamination, see the Department of Health's Chemicals in Sportfish and Game brochure.7 Check the FDA website to review reports about pesticide residues in food.8
Chemical dust and residues Wash children's hands and toys with soap and water frequently. Damp mop floors. Wash window sills and the area between the sill and the screen or outside window, where dust collects. If clothes get contaminated, wash them separately from children's items.9

5. Is The Exposure Really Worth It?

Many household products contain chemicals that can be harmful.The choices we make as consumers, parents and teachers can make a difference in exposure. Only you can decide what may be an "unnecessary" exposure for you and your family. Here are some examples:

The exposure can come from... What can I do?
Lawn pesticides Learn about ways to control pests and weeds that do not use chemical pesticides.10 Appreciate the look of a natural lawn.
Air fresheners, deodorizers and candles Recognize that if you can smell it, the artificial scent or odor may be made up of chemicals. Nothing freshens a room like fresh air.
Personal care products Ask yourself if the products you use are really necessary (hair spray? powders? perfumes?).
Art supplies Oil paints, pastels, rubber cement, and spray adhesives are not good choices for young children. Look for the phrase "conforms to the federal ASTM D-4236 standard" on art supplies. Avoid permanent and scented markers.

6. Keep Kids Away

If you decide to use products that contain hazardous substances, reduce the risk to children by keeping them from getting too near. Here are some examples:

The exposure can come from... What can I do?
Household products such as glass cleaners, oven cleaners, drain openers, floor and furniture polishes, bleaches, dishwasher detergents, carpet cleaners, etc. Put locks on cabinets and store products out of children's reach.11 Do not keep what you will not use again. Dispose of unwanted products properly.
Pesticides such as flea and tick controls, lawn pesticides and indoor pesticides Read and follow label directions carefully.12 Keep children away from areas being treated during treatment and for a while after. Remove toys and stuffed animals from areas before treatment. Teach children not to touch flea and tick collars on pets or areas where other products, such as spray and spot treatments, were applied.

7. Home Safe Home

Keeping your home and surroundings in good working order can stop trouble before it starts.13,14 Here are some examples:

The exposure can come from... What can I do?
Breathing radon gas Test your home for radon15(using a simple and inexpensive detector); if there is a problem, it can often be fixed quite easily.
Carbon monoxide (CO) and other emissions from furnaces, appliances, space heaters, fireplaces and woodburning stoves Have your furnace checked about once a year or immediately if you smell fuel or smoke. Clean chimneys. Consider the use of CO detectors.16,17
Molds (which can trigger allergies or asthma) Find the source of the leak or moisture and fix it.18 Dehumidifers can help in damp settings; make sure you empty the reservoir and clean frequently.
Chemical and bacterial contaminants in drinking water If you are on a private well, test it periodically for bacterial contamination. Check with your local health department if testing is needed for other contaminants of concern in your area and ask for names of certified labs.
Lead-based paint and dust Use wet techniques for small jobs involving the removal of lead-based paint. For larger jobs, such as renovation projects, get professional help.19
Indoor fuel oil storage tanks Make sure fuel oil is properly delivered, and does not leak on the floor. Spills should be cleaned up completely.
Playground equipment, decks and furniture made with pressure-treated (chemically treated) wood Seal pressure-treated wood regularly to reduce skin contact with the chemicals. Oil-based, penetrating stains appear to work best for this purpose, or use several coats of paint. When possible, choose playground equipment made from plastic (preferably recycled), metal or untreated natural wood.20


  1. Indoor Air Pollutants, Call NYS Department of Health at 800-458-1158
  2. Cleaning up Mercury Spills, Call NYS Department of Health at 800-458-1158
  3. Burning Trash
  4. Ventilation
  5. Integrated Pest Management
  6. Tick and Insect Repellents
  7. Chemicals in Sportfish and Game
  8. US Food and Drug Administration Pesticide Reports
  9. Get Ahead of Lead!
    Call NYS Department of Health at (800) 458-1158
  10. Healthy Lawn and Environment
  11. Protect Children from Poisonings
  12. Reducing Pesticide Exposure
  13. Home Safe Home
  14. Indoor Air Quality
  15. Protect Your Family From Radon
  16. Carbon Monoxide
  17. Space Heaters
  18. Molds
  19. Lead-Based Paint
  20. Pollution Prevention Tips for Pressure-Treated Wood and Lumber Pressure Treated with Chromate Copper Arsenate


New York State Department of Health
Phone: 800-458-1158

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Phone: 1-518-402-8788

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
EPA Hotline

New York State Energy Research and Development Authority
Phone: 866-NYSERDA