Trenton — The Kiddie Kollege day-care facility located inside an old thermometer factory had much higher mercury levels than previously reported, according to an assessment released today by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The agency proposes to raze the building but many questions remain about what led to the exposure of more than 30 toddlers and what actions will be taken to punish responsible parties and prevent similar occurrences, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The proposed Remedial Action Report for the Kiddie Kollege site in Gloucester County’s Franklin Township will be the subject of a public hearing on February 13th in the Township Municipal Building. The report, which is open for public comment through March 1, 2008, found that –
- Sampled indoor levels were more than 3,000 times greater than the indoor air screening standard – more than 550 times that standard in the first floor area the toddlers occupied. Exposure levels at Kiddie Kollege exceeded federal Occupational Health and Safety exposure limits, in certain areas by more than threefold;
- Mercury infused virtually every part of the building and was detected in 98 out of 100 material and wipe samples tested; and
- DEP entered into a voluntary agreement with the building owner on the day before the day-care center was closed on July 28, 2006. Moreover, no further enforcement action was taken after the voluntary agreement was terminated.
“More than 18 months after the Kiddie Kollege scandal, we still do not have the promised reports from the Attorney General and the DEP explaining how this could happen,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting that DEP has not even restricted future use of known polluted groundwater on the site. “Demolishing the site does not address the serious public health breakdowns that took place here.”
Despite the exposure of toddlers to excessive air-borne mercury at the day-care center which operated for more than two years, the state Department of Health and Senior Services announced that it has no plans to continue to monitoring children or teachers. A number of the Kiddie Kollege parents are dissatisfied with the state response.
PEER argues that Kiddie Kollege is not an isolated case. DEP records indicate that there are 60 day-care centers whose drinking water wells and indoor air may have high levels of toxic chemicals, including mercury. These 60 are among the estimated 1,400 day-care centers in New Jersey located on or within 400 feet of a known toxic hazard.
“There will be another Kiddie Kollege unless the flawed system is fixed,” Wolfe predicted.
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.