This is one of those stories that I can’t handle. There is a daycare center in New Jersey that has been closed because it was discovered that the building sits on a former Mercury Thermometer Factory site. The mercury vapor levels were found to be at least 27 times the regulatory limit. Mercury, a naturally occurring element, is toxic if inhaled or ingested. Symptoms of mercury poisoning in children include insomnia, irritability, rashes and peeling of hands and skin. Mercury vapors are heavier than air and therefore more prevalent near the floor, where children nap and play.
Some of the children, as young as 8 months old, spend upwards of 10 hours a day at this facility while their parents are at work.
“I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights, and my wife cries on a daily basis,” said Sean McCleery, whose two children, Autumn, 6, and Tristan, 3, tested above normal and must continue to be monitored. “You think you’re doing the best you can to protect your children, and it ends up in a heartbreaking situation”.
In 2001, Jim Sullivan, a local realtor, bought the property. At that time a 1996 report issued by the federal Environmental Protection Agency said the site did not belong on the Superfund list and was not eligible for a federal cleanup because it “does not present an immediate threat to human health or the environment”.
Then in September 2003, a township construction official told the state environmental department that the owner wanted to convert the site to a day care center. “N.J.D.E.P. informed the construction official that it was not recommended to convert the site at that time”, according to the department’s timeline, because it had not been certified as cleaned and ready for development.
The township’s Mayor, Dave Ferrucci, said his staff had no memory of any such phone conversation, and had erroneously relied on the federal report from 1996. Jim Sullivan leased the building in 2004 to Becky Baughman, who is currently pregnant. She was not told anything about the history of the site.
Then, in 2005, the property was removed from the state environmental agency’s booklet of known contaminated sites along with about 1,800 other sites that were considered low priority because, as Commissioner Jackson said, it was believed to be empty.
On April 11 this year, while inspecting low-priority sites, the department discovered that the child care center was operating in the building.
Two weeks later, the state environmental department said it contacted Mr. Sullivan to see if the site had been decontaminated, and according to the timeline, he said the state had indicated there were no problems there. But he was again referring to the 1996 federal report.
On July 28, tests that the state environmental department required showed elevated levels of mercury vapor, and droplets of mercury were later found in the basement and between the floor joists.
Some have questioned why the state did not close the day care center as soon as the environmental agency discovered that mercury was present, since officials knew that there was no letter certifying it clean and ready for development. But Elaine Makatura, a spokeswoman for the department, said that at that time it did not have test results to confirm that the building was unsafe.
“In hindsight, in April, we could have shut it down regardless of home rule, regardless of anything”, Ms. Makatura said.
This is so frustrating. If one of those officials who realized that they facility had been turned into a daycare had a child there, Kiddie Kollege would have been shut down immediately.
I just posted an article about mercury in fish and how pregnant women should avoid certain fish while pregnant. Now we hear that some innocent children are being exposed to extremly high levels without anyone’s knowledge. I feel awful for these parents. This wasn’t anything that they could control. It’s not like you check with the Environmental Protection Agency every time you enroll your children in something. Maybe it’s time we started!