Philadelphia Inquirer (pg. B1)  [Printer-friendly version]
August 29, 2006


Voluntary Agreement Is No Longer Enough, a DEP Official Said. "We
Don't Want To Be Revisiting This Property Again." -

By Sam Wood, Inquirer Staff Writer

The landlord of a mercury-contaminated day care in Gloucester County
has been directed by the state Department of Environmental Protection
to pay $500,000 for a state-directed cleanup.

The landlord, Jim Sullivan Inc., previously entered into a voluntary
agreement with the DEP to clean the site, a former thermometer factory
in Franklinville that was polluted with mercury.But yesterday, a DEP
spokesman said a voluntary agreement was no longer good enough.

"It's now a priority," said Ronald T. Corcory, an assistant director
for the department. "Sullivan has been working to clean up the
property, but he could have walked away at any time. We don't want to
be revisiting this property again in five or 10 years. This guarantees
it will get done."

The directive, dated Aug. 17, also is addressed to Accutherm Inc., the
bankrupt thermometer manufacturer, and Navillus Group L.L.C., which
bought the tax liens on the property and turned it over for $1 to
Franklinville real estate company Jim Sullivan Inc.

The DEP directive was first reported in the Gloucester County Times.
It was made available to The Inquirer yesterday.

Kiddie Kollege Day Care and Pre School operated for two years inside
the squat cinder-block building located directly across from the
offices of Jim Sullivan Inc.

The DEP closed the day care July 28 after tests showed "extremely
high" levels of mercury vapors existed in the building, possibly
affecting about 90 children.

About 20 children who attended Kiddie Kollege and one staff member
were found to have elevated levels of mercury in their blood,
according to tests conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention in Atlanta.

The state Attorney General's Office is conducting a criminal
investigation into how the building was allowed to open as a day care.

The Aug. 17 directive is not the first to be issued to owners of the
site. A similar order was issued on April 7, 1995, to the owner of
Accutherm Inc., Philip J. Giuliano of Williamsburg, Va. It, too, was
signed by Corcory.

No action was ever taken, Corcory said, because Accutherm had gone
bankrupt and "it didn't appear that anyone was going to be in the

The directive to Sullivan was issued the same day a comparable
directive was sent to the landlord of a Dover Township day care.
Ultimate Scholar in Toms River was forced to close Aug. 10 after high
levels of tetrachloroethylene, a cancer-causing chemical also known as
PCE, were discovered in a children's play area.

The Franklinville property and the Toms River location were both on
the DEP's list of known contaminated sites when the day-care centers
first opened their doors to young children. There is no state or
federal law that prohibits a day care or school from setting up shop
on a known contaminated site.

The directive calls for Jim Sullivan Inc. to enter into a contract,
called an administrative consent order, with the DEP. But according to
the DEP, on Aug. 15 Sullivan rejected the order even though it allowed
him to provide a "preemptive" plan.

A preemptive plan would allow Sullivan to provide its own
environmental consultant and its own contractors to complete the

"The administrative consent order only binds them to do the work,"
Corcory said. "The DEP would only oversee the operation."

Sullivan's owner, Jim Sullivan Jr. of Franklinville, and his attorney,
Richard Hluchian, were not available for comment yesterday.

Environmentalists, however, were outraged that cleanup of the mercury-
tainted site could remain under Sullivan's control.

"We cannot trust Jim Sullivan and his people. He has proven himself
untrustworthy," said Bill Wolfe, a former DEP staffer for 13 years who
now heads an environmental-watchdog group.

"He has an economic stake in minimizing the cleanup costs," said
Wolfe, the director of Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility. "The state's interest is making sure it gets done

In addition, Wolfe said, $500,000 is hardly enough for a cleanup.

Other environmentalists had additional reservations.

"It's totally inappropriate for the DEP to enter into any agreement
with Sullivan before the criminal investigation is over," said Jeff
Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club.

Tittel also said it was "highly unlikely" that Sullivan did not know
the building housed a former thermometer plant and therefore the
cleanup should be handled differently. A thorough cleanup will involve
demolishing the building and carting off tons of rubble and
surrounding soil.

"It will cost millions if they do it right and don't play games,"
Tittel said. "Under the law, the DEP has the power to take over the
site, clean it up, and sue Sullivan for triple damages. That's what
DEP should do here."

Contact staff writer Sam Wood at 856-779-3838 or at

Copyright (c) 2006 The Philadelphia Inquirer