Philadelphia Inquirer (pg. B1), 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 building."

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 cleanup.

"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 right."

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

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