Trenton — As the New Jersey Legislature struggles to respond to the “Kiddie Kollege” debacle, where more than 60 children were exposed to mercury vapors at a day-care center located inside a former thermometer factory, legislators, with Corzine administration support, have proposed legislation that fails to address the underlying problems in the state’s toxic clean-up laws, according to testimony delivered today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Today the state Senate Environment Committee will consider legislation (S2261) designed to prevent placement of day-care facilities, schools and residences on contaminated former industrial sites. Today’s Senate hearings follow last week’s Assembly Environment Committee hearings in Franklinville, the Gloucester County community where Kiddie Kollege is located. At that earlier hearing, parents of the poisoned children vented their anger at negligent oversight and the unresponsiveness of state officials.
The new legislation also proposes a broad new statewide program to regulate indoor air quality at all new residential, school, and day-care buildings.
“While the intent and some provisions of this ambitious legislation are commendable, the bill fails to address the underlying flaws in NJ toxic site cleanup laws, while the indoor air program may be unworkable,” noted New Jersey PEER Director, Bill Wolfe, a former analyst with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). In addition to the utter absence of a funding source for the major new indoor air program, Wolfe points to flaws in the legislation, including —
- The absence of scientific criteria, rational priorities, or public health guidelines for the design of the indoor air program will likely cause political controversy and gridlock and, if enacted, lead to costly over-regulation of low risk exposures and under-regulation of high risk exposures;
- The focus on local construction approvals for new day-care centers ignores potential health risks at over 700 of 4,200 existing day care centers that DEP has determined are located on or within 400 feet of highly contaminated, incompletely cleaned up, or capped toxic waste sites; and
- The bill relies on existing cleanup laws and DEP implementation. Failure to strengthen the state’s cleanup laws ignores potentially serious health risks from toxic exposures at up to 100 existing schools and unknown thousands of existing homes and other buildings across New Jersey that are located on or nearby highly contaminated or incompletely cleaned up or capped sites.
“Here’s a novel idea: let’s actually clean up toxic contaminated sites and make sure DEP really enforces the law,” Wolfe stated, noting that the legislation ignores the gaps and deficiencies in state toxic site clean-up and “brownfields” redevelopment laws, as well as the astoundingly lax DEP oversight and enforcement that led directly to the Kiddie Kollege fiasco. “This Legislature needs to start addressing the health threats posed to its constituents by the thousands of other toxic sites scattered across New Jersey.”
PEER also again provided the Legislature with a detailed roadmap of reforms to state laws so as to: 1) strengthen the clean-up process; 2) restore DEP’s power to select and impose remedies; and 3) require public participation in evaluating alternative, more protective solutions for contaminated sites.
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability.