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Environmental Health: Choose Safe Places Program

Children are more likely than adults to get sick from environmental hazards. That’s because they eat more food, drink more water, and breathe in more air relative to their body size than adults. They also engage in behaviors that make them more likely to contact harmful substances, such as putting their hands in their mouths or playing on the ground.

The Choose Safe Places Program helps child care providers keep kids safe from toxic chemicals and other environmental hazards. It does this by providing free consultations to prospective providers of licensed group and family centers.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) offers the program in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Supporting Families Together Association.

What is Choose Safe Places?

Why should I participate in Choose Safe Places?

The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families requires every licensed or certified child care program to meet safety regulations.

Some of these regulations reduce chemical exposure, like safe handling and storage of hazardous materials and required testing of private well water.

The Choose Safe Places program builds on these protections. It helps participating providers check for chemical contamination and other environmental hazards when they choose a new location.

Learn more about the national Choose Safe Places initiative from the CDC's (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention') Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

What can I expect from participation?

Once you complete and submit a Property Checklist, the Choose Safe Places program will evaluate the location of your proposed child care center to determine if there are any environmental hazards. This evaluation is completed remotely—an on-site visit is not required. The program will then send you a report with its findings and recommendations. You can use the report to make healthier spaces for children and staff.

Environmental hazards the program looks for include:

Harmful chemicals left behind from past uses of the site

Chemicals can stay in the environment for a long time, even after the cause of the contamination has stopped. We can identify potential chemicals that could still be around by learning how the property was used in the past.

For example, if the center was once a dry cleaning business, harmful chemicals could still be present beneath the building. If the center was once a tavern, there could be third-hand smoke concerns.

Identifying whether the property had a previous use that could present a problem for a child care center is an important way to protect children. The Choose Safe Places program uses the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) database of contaminated properties in Wisconsin to research proposed locations and see whether they’ve been the site of contamination reports.

Harmful chemicals moved onto the site from other properties

Industrial practices weren’t as regulated in the past as they are today. For that reason, many spills went undocumented. Chemicals from those spills can stay in the environment for a long time. They can move through the air, water, and soil to nearby buildings, which can cause contamination.

We use the Department of Natural Resources database of contaminated properties in Wisconsin to research reported contamination near the proposed location.

Lead in paint

Because lead was used in paint until 1978, it’s a common environmental hazard in older buildings. Choose Safe Places can help you determine how likely it is that you have lead paint in the building and give you resources to help keep children safe from exposure.

Radon gas

Radon is one of the most common, naturally occurring, harmful substances found in Wisconsin. Radon is radioactive and can cause lung cancer.

Even though you can’t see or smell radon, it can leak into your home or building. Choose Safe Places will recommend radon gas testing and give you local resources.

Drinking water contaminants

Drinking water that is piped into your home or building comes from either a public water supply or a private well. Lead, nitrate, and bacteria are all common water contaminants that can affect your health.

Public water systems are regulated by state and federal laws, but protecting the quality of water from private wells is the responsibility of the owner. Depending on where you get your water, Choose Safe Places can recommend ways to keep you and the children you serve safe from drinking water contaminants.

How do I participate?

Follow these steps:

  1. Order a DCF child care licensing inquiry packet.
  2. Review the Choose Safe Places and Property Checklist, F-02410. This form is available as a PDF in English, Spanish (Español), and Hmong (Hmoob), as well as in an online submission format.
  3. Submit the completed checklist by:
  1. Receive a free, written report* from DHS in about two weeks.

Tips for completing the property checklist

Answer the questions on the Property Checklist the best you can. If you don’t know one of the answers, we recommend you talk to:

  • The property owner if you’re renting the space for your facility.
  • Your town engineer or building department.
  • Your town planner or zoning office.

*Legal disclaimer

Responses to the Property Checklist are provided as general guidance only and to increase overall safety awareness. This information is not intended to constitute legal or medical advice and you should use it at your own risk. DHS accepts no responsibility or liability for damages arising from use of this information. If a more thorough investigation of the property is warranted, the user should seek the advice of appropriate professionals.

DHS does not make any warranty, express or implied; assume any legal liability for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information herein; represent that its use would not infringe privately owned rights; nor assume any liability with respect to the use of, or for damages resulting from the use of any information, method, or process disclosed in this publication.

More resources

If you have more questions, email

Last revised October 16, 2023