Environmental Information for Patients

The Region 2 Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) provides evidence-based messages and resources on common environmental exposures where children live, learn, and play. It is easy to become sick or hurt from household products and irritants. Our unit is here to provide you with the necessary information you need to navigate the normal world we are living.

Cleaning and disinfecting your home can provide extra protection against infection. While disinfectants like hydrogen peroxide or bleach are important to kill coronavirus on household surfaces, they must be used safely to avoid harming your health. When cleaning and disinfecting, open windows for fresh air, keep children out of the area, and securely store cleaning materials out of the reach of children. 

Learn More About Safe Cleaning and Disinfecting:

Effective Disinfectants Against COVID-19:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a list of disinfectants that effectively kill coronavirus. All of these products must be used safely!

Local Resources for Region 2:

PFAS (perfluoroalkyl & polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of human-made chemicals used in many consumer products such as non-stick pans and food take-out containers.These chemicals can also get into water supplies (public water systems & private water wells), sometimes at levels higher than recommended guidelines. Studies show a possible link between PFAS exposure and certain health effects, such as higher cholesterol. There are simple steps to reduce your exposure to PFAS. 

Learn More About How to Limit Your Exposure to PFAS:

Simple Steps to Reduce Your Exposure to PFAS: 

Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a guide on how to reduce exposure to PFAS chemicals in everyday life by reducing the use of certain consumer products such as microwave popcorn bags, food take-out containers, non-stick pots and pans.

Blood Tests for PFAS: 

For communities impacted by PFAS, there may be research studies that involve PFAS blood testing for local residents - contact your Department of Health for more information. Aside from these studies, we do not recommend routine testing of children for PFAS. Although PFAS can be measured in blood, the results do not help doctors make medical decisions or predict future health effects. If you do want to have your child tested for PFAS, testing is usually not available at commercial or clinical laboratories. At labs that offer PFAS testing, insurance usually does not cover the expense of testing, which can range from $500-$800.

Local Resources for Region 2:

ATSDR is conducting research studies in Region 2 and across the United States to understand the health effects of PFAS exposure. 

Lead is a metal that can be found in paints, water pipes, soil, consumer products, and others. The most common way for children to be exposed to lead is from peeling paint in old homes (built before 1978). Given that lead can affect the developing brain and other organ systems, it is important to prevent exposure in children and pregnant women.

Learn More About Lead:

Local Resources for Region 2:

Mold can grow indoors if there is high humidity, water damage, or water leaks. Breathing in mold spores can cause asthma attacks and allergies in some people. It is important to reduce exposure to mold by fixing any underlying water problems and safely cleaning the mold-damaged material in your home.

Learn More About Mold: 

Local Resources for Region 2:

Exposure to pests (like cockroaches and mice) can lead to allergy symptoms and asthma attacks in both children and adults. However, the use of chemical pesticides can also pose a risk to health. There are safe and effective ways to get rid of pests without harmful pesticide chemicals. 

Reduce Your Use of Pesticides By Getting Rid of Entry Points, Food and Water Sources, and Shelter for Pests:

Learn More About Pests:

Learn More About Pesticides:

  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Pesticides

Outdoor Pesticide Safety

Bed Bugs

Local Resources for Region 2:

Having good indoor air quality is important because we spend most of our time indoors. Pollutants in the indoor air can come from sources inside the home such as appliances and cleaning products. Pollutants can also enter the home from outdoors such as radon gas. Some indoor air pollutants like mold can trigger allergies and asthma, while others like carbon monoxide can lead to more serious health effects. There are simple steps you can take to improve the quality of air in your home including good ventilation and regular cleaning (wet dusting, wet mopping).

Learn More About Indoor Air Quality:

Rx for Prevention: 

Air Purifiers/Filters 

Air purifiers/filters can effectively remove indoor air pollutants like dust, pollen, and some gases; but should not replace good ventilation and routine cleaning of your home. If you do choose to use an air purifier, choose one with a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter with the recommended Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values (MERV) and Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) ratings. We do not recommend Photo Electrochemical Oxidation (PECO) or Photocatalytic Oxidation (PCO) filters as these have been shown to be less effective than HEPA filters. In addition, make sure the air purifier does not generate ozone (because ozone can irritate the lungs). Look up approved air cleaners or methods to reduce the number of indoor allergens here.

Local Resources for Region 2:

Many states and Puerto Rico have an indoor air quality program or resources that provide answers to localized indoor air quality questions. Learn more about EPA Regional Office and State Indoor Air Quality Information.

There are many sources of allergens in the home such as dust mites, pests, mold, dust, and pet dander. Some children with allergies or asthma may be sensitive to these allergens. It is important to take simple steps to reduce the levels of these allergens in the home. Make sure to clean regularly (wet dust/mop, vacuum), open your windows to circulate fresh air into the home, and prevent pests and mold growth. Additional steps may be needed if your child has allergies or asthma.

Rx for Prevention: 

Local Resources for Region 2:

There are many sources of irritants in the indoor air such as tobacco smoke, cleaning products, and other chemicals used in the home. These irritants can be harmful to both adults and children when exposed, and people with asthma may be particularly sensitive. Make sure to clean regularly using safer green cleaning products, open your windows to circulate fresh air into the home, prohibit smoking inside the home, and use/store chemicals safely. 

Rx for Prevention:

Local Resources for Region 2:

Radon is a radioactive gas with no smell, color, or taste. It is formed naturally in the soil in some areas of the world. Radon can enter homes through cracks in the foundation, and levels tend to be highest in the basement and lower floors. Breathing in high levels of radon over time can lead to lung cancer. You can protect your health by testing your home for radon. If levels are too high, there are options to lower the levels in your home. 

  • Visit sosradon.org or call 1-800-767-7236 to purchase a radon testing kit.

Learn More About Radon:

Local Resources for Region 2:

Carbon monoxide is a gas with no smell, color, or taste. It is formed when fuel is burned from gas generators, gas stoves, grills, running cars, etc. Carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, and in severe cases, death. Protect your health by installing carbon monoxide detectors in your home and using fuel-burning appliances in well-ventilated areas.

Local Resources for Region 2:

Asbestos is a group of mineral fibers found in older buildings (insulation, roofing, tiles) and rarely in consumer products. If asbestos-containing materials are disturbed in a way that releases asbestos fibers into the air, people can be exposed. Breathing in asbestos fibers over long periods can lead to mesothelioma (cancer in the lining of the lungs) and lung cancer. You can protect your health by hiring a licensed abatement contractor to remove damaged asbestos-containing materials or if you are planning to remodel your home that contains asbestos. Asbestos-containing material that is intact may not need to be removed.

Learn More About Asbestos:

Asbestos in Schools
Public and non-profit private schools are required to check for asbestos-containing materials and to develop and update school asbestos management plans.

Local Resources for Region 2:

Many states, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands have an asbestos program that provides answers to localized asbestos questions: State Asbestos Contacts | Asbestos | US EPA.

Outdoor air pollutants can be released into the air by car/truck traffic, factories, and coal ash from power plants. These pollutants can be gases, smog, or small particles called particulate matter; and can lead to asthma, lung disease, or heart disease. To stay safe, check your local “air quality index” (a measure of air quality) and plan outdoor activities when pollution levels are lower.

Learn More About Outdoor Air Quality: 

Local Resources for Region 2: 

Mercury is a metal that can be found in large predator fish (such as shark and swordfish) and some consumer products (such as skin lightening cream). Exposure to high levels of mercury can have harmful effects on the developing brain and nervous system. You can protect your family by choosing fish wisely and not using products that contain mercury.

Learn which type of fish to consume:

Eat Fish, Choose Wisely! FDA/EPA guide to eating fish

Learn More About Mercury:

In the News: Mercury in Gym Floors:

Local Resources for Region 2:

Drinking water can come from public (municipal) water systems or private wells. Public systems are monitored and regulated to make sure they meet drinking water standards (and you can review yourlocal water report). However, well water is not monitored or regulated, so families have to test their well water regularly to make sure it is safe to drink. 

Well Water

Homeowners should test their well water at least annually for common contaminants of concern using a state-certified lab. Local health departments can provide guidance on testing and any needed treatment for your well.

Tap Water (Public Water Supplies)

Public water systems are monitored for a variety of contaminants and must meet federal regulations developed to protect public health.

Learn More About Drinking Water:

Drinking Water Pollutants:

Local Resources for Region 2:

Our PEHSU receives inquiries from parents about contaminants found in children’s food products, such as pesticides, mercury in fish, arsenic in rice, and heavy metals in baby food. There are simple steps that families can take to ensure a healthy diet while reducing exposure to chemicals.

Pesticides

Heavy Metals

Food Safety

Other Topics

Local Resources for Region 2:

Consumer and personal care products include shampoo, soaps, perfumes, deodorants, and many others. These products sometimes contain harmful chemicals that can disrupt our hormonal systems (called “endocrine-disrupting chemicals”). It is best to use products that are fragrance-free, and use this Environmental Working Group (EWG) guide to select safer products when possible.

Learn More About Consumer and Personal Care Products:

Safe and Green Cleaning Options for your Home

Local Resources for Region 2:

The rise in greenhouse gases in our atmosphere (mostly from burning fossil fuels) is changing the climate, and leading to hotter temperatures, more frequent and severe extreme weather events, disrupted supplies of safe and healthy water and food, and increased air pollution and certain infectious diseases. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. There are a number of ways to protect your family’s health and help slow down climate change.

Learn More About Climate Change and Health: