About the Research

The PEDS Team is investigating whether chemical exposures experienced during children’s first few years of life impact their cognitive development. We are also working to understand how nonchemical factors in children’s caregiving environment might change the impact of chemical exposures. We will enroll approximately 300 children and 60 child care centers for this study.

This study will address an important gap in understanding the cumulative and individual impacts of common chemical exposures experienced during early childhood

Early childhood is a period of rapid brain development and represents a sensitive time of growth when children are especially vulnerable to the effects of environmental contaminants. Many studies have shown the harmful effects of environmental contaminants on children’s brain development—including the contaminants we are testing in this study, such as lead, other metals, flame retardants, ‘forever chemicals,’ and secondhand smoke. Learn more about the common chemicals we are testing for and why we are testing for them.

brain puzzle

These common contaminants can harm both cognitive development (such as learning, problem-solving, and remembering) and behavioral development (such as hyperactivity, inattention, impulsivity). For example, exposure to lead early in life blocks normal brain growth and development, even at doses below CDC and regulatory guidelines. Doctors and researchers have found there is no safe level of lead exposure in children. In addition to lead, this study will help to further investigate the effect of many common contaminants on children’s cognition and behavior.

We use innovative environmental sampling techniques and cognitive assessments to characterize exposures and outcomes

Exposures and Other Factors: Using a participatory science approach, participating families collect dust and water samples from their home and hair and saliva samples from their child. Children also wear fun silicone wristbands for several days, which act as personal exposure monitors. Members of our study team also collect water and dust samples from the child's preschool. Our lab tests these samples for several types of chemical contaminants that are of increasing public health concern in North Carolina and across the United States.

Specifically, we will test for 15 different metals (including lead, cadmium, chromium, and arsenic), several types of 'forever chemicals' (PFAS), several common flame retardants, and a marker of cigarette smoke. The range of sample types, sample locations, and tested contaminants will allow us to robustly characterize chemical exposures experienced by children at home and in child care settings.

Parents, caregivers, and teachers also complete interviews and questionnaires to help us better understand the child and their day-to-day life.

Outcomes: Our study team visits participating child care centers to play a game-like activity with participating 3- to 5-year-old children. Children complete the activity on a portable computer during our visit to child care centers. This activity assesses executive function outcomes and is designed to be engaging and fun for children to complete. The task takes approximately 30 minutes to complete.

Using advanced statistical methods, we will examine the impact of individual and cumulative environmental exposures on children’s early cognitive development. We also will investigate how nonchemical factors in children’s caregiving environments might change the impact of chemical exposures

Want to learn more about our research and study design? Contact our team!


Our Study Area

Our study area includes ten counties in central North Carolina: Chatham, Durham, Franklin, Granville, Halifax, Johnston, Orange, Vance, Wake, and Warren Counties.

This study area includes the rapidly growing Raleigh-Durham metro-area and more rural areas of central North Carolina. We are recruiting a wide range of participants so our study accurately reflects the families that live, work, and play throughout central North Carolina.

map of north carolina with 10 counties highlighted in green


happy child in backyard

Our Impact

Our team is dedicated to providing actionable findings that help North Carolina children learn, grow, and thrive at home and away from home. This program will support families, child care providers, early educators, and decision-makers to protect the health and wellbeing of young children.

Our research will have broad applications across the larger child care community and for working families who need safe places for their children to learn and play while at work. In North Carolina, more than 200,000 children are enrolled at over 4,400 licensed child care facilities.

We will use the results of this study to improve environmental health literacy in North Carolina and we will ensure our information is useful for many different audiences. We will consider the ways in which our study results can be translated to support prevention and early intervention activities, which include chemical exposure prevention and efforts to strengthen families.

Our project website will be updated throughout the course of this study—please check back regularly for news, study findings, recommendations for various stakeholders, and links to resources.


Our Funding

This grant is funded through EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Program. A complete description of the grant funding the PEDS program can be found here: https://govtribe.com/file/government-file/03bb2897345edd6c3680c643797c7987


Our Institutions

This study is a partnership between RTI International (a nonprofit research institute) and NC Central University (a historically Black college).