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Kiddie Kollege: Two Years Later

July 28, 2008 marked the two year anniversary of the discovery of mercury at the site of Kiddie Kollege, the Franklin Township daycare center that at one time provided day care services for children ages 8 months to 13 years.

Prior to housing Kiddie Kollege, the building served as the headquarters of Accutherm Inc., a thermometer manufacturer. Kiddie Kollege closed its doors in July of 2006, after the State Departments of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and Environmental Protection (DEP) deemed the building unsafe and unfit for occupancy.

These findings and the concern of the parents whose children attended the daycare center led me to sponsor S-2261, a law which requires the Department of Health and Senior Services to adopt regulations establishing evaluation and assessment procedures for determining the safety of child care centers and schools.

As the senator who represents Legislative District 4, which includes Franklin Township, I would like to update local residents on the progress of the long-overdue demolition of the Kiddie Kollege building. As of now, the building is slated to be demolished in November of this year.

In addition to the demolition of the building, a few other projects will be taking place on the property, to help ensure that all mercury and other contaminants are fully removed. The DEP has been instructed to safely remove the building’s septic tank and the soil on the property. The DEP will also set up air-monitoring stations around the perimeter of the property, to measure dust particulates and test for mercury vapors.

The ball was dropped on this issue once before when Kiddie Kollege was permitted to open on the site of an old thermometer manufacturer. Common sense should have led all parties involved to check the soil and water for mercury, but that’s just not what happened. It is imperative that we get it right this time. We can’t allow the health of our children and the residents of this area as a whole, to be put in harm’s way because of negligence.

A few months ago a group of parents whose children attended Kiddie Kollege filed a lawsuit against the parties they hold responsible for their children’s mercury exposure – the DHSS, DEP, and the Department of Children and Families.

Also named in the lawsuit are the building’s former owners, who ran Accutherm, Inc. These parents contend that the State departments knowingly granted permits for the daycare center, without checking for the presence of mercury and other contaminants. The parents are suing Accutherm, Inc. for failing to disclose that the building had once been used to manufacture mercury thermometers.

The lawsuit also calls for the DHSS to cover the cost of lifelong mercury testing for all of the children who attended Kiddie Kollege. I understand these parents’ frustration.

As a parent and a grandparent, if my children were put in harm’s way like Kiddie Kollege’s students were, I’d want answers as well as an assurance that their health would be monitored for the rest of their lives.

My law will help to ensure that what happened at Kiddie Kollege will never happen again. This issue is of such great importance that it served as the impetus for the creation of national safety standards for daycare centers and schools.

The fact remains, however, that this building is still up, and it needs to be demolished as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the DEP is being legally required to file for access to demolish the building. On a positive note, however, the building poses no threat as long as it remains unoccupied.

The demolition of the building will provide a sense of closure for the parents whose children were affected, and allow these families to move on without the constant reminder of the fact that their children’s lives were endangered by attending Kiddie Kollege.

Residents have a right to know what’s going on in their community. Kiddie Kollege needs to serve as an example of what can happen when the lines of communication between the State and local businesses are not open.

This situation could have been prevented by simply checking to ensure that the environment in and around the Kiddie Kollege building was safe for children – but that didn’t happen.

We owe it to our kids to ensure their safety, both when they are with us, and when they are with the people we trust to care for them.