Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, N.J.) (pg. A1), August 4, 2006
MERCURY AT FRANKLIN DAY-CARE UPSETS PARENTS
Kiddie College has shut down
By Tim Zatzariny, Jr.
Franklin -- Delores Johnson had no idea the day-care center where she brought her son for two years could be hiding a toxic history.
She and dozens of other parents were shocked to learn last week that Kiddie College is in a former mercury thermometer manufacturing facility. Johnson's son, Ian, was among about 30 children, ages 8 months to 13 years, who attended the center.
Kiddie College's owners voluntarily halted operations July 28 after air and surface testing by the state Department of Environmental Protection found high levels of mercury inside the building at Station Avenue and Delsea Drive.
The state Attorney General's Office announced late Thursday it is investigating how the day-care center operated for at least two years at a potentially contaminated former industrial site.
"It is hard to fathom how this could have happened, but we are committed to finding out how, and to holding the responsible parties accountable," said Attorney General Zulima V. Farber, who called the situation "outrageous."
The state Department of Environmental Protection launched its own investigation last week after learning a day-care center was operating on the site, said spokeswoman Elaine Makatura.
"The last that the DEP knew, this was an abandoned site," she said. Long-term exposure to mercury vapors can cause damage to the body's nervous system. Children can be more susceptible to mercury's effects, according to a fact sheet from the state Department of Health and Senior Services.
"Right now, he doesn't show any of the symptoms, but that's irrelevant," Johnson, 42, said of her son, Ian, 7. "What's going to happen 10, 20 years down the line?"
The Department of Health and Senior Services is overseeing testing of the children and the center's six to eight staff members, said department spokeswoman Gretchen Michael. The results should be available within two weeks, Michael said.
She said she did not believe any children at the center had become ill due to mercury exposure.
That's little comfort to angry and concerned parents like Johnson, who attended a meeting with officials from the Department of Health and Senior Services on Wednesday night at the township community center.
"I think the frustration was, nobody knows why children were ever allowed in the building or people were allowed to work there," she said.
Johnson said what's most troubling is she and other parents had no idea they might be putting their children in harm's way.
"You put your trust in the environment you put your children in during the day," she said. "To know that what you've done could potentially put your child at risk is really hard to swallow."
Accurtherm Inc., which made thermometers at the site, shut down operations more than a decade ago. The building then housed a newspaper office before opening as a day-care center in January 2004.
The day-care center's operators do not own the building. No one answered the phone number listed for the center Thursday afternoon. A recorded message said the center's owners were looking for an alternate site.
Jim Sullivan Real Estate Services Inc., a township-based agency, owns the property, according to county real estate records.
The agency's owner, James Sullivan III, could not be reached Thursday. A receptionist in his office said Sullivan was out of the office and no one else was available to comment.
Reach Tim Zatzariny Jr. at (856) 251-3341 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Long-term exposure to mercury vapor can damage the nervous system.
Symptoms are psychological changes, insomnia, loss of appetite with weight loss, headaches, short-term memory loss and tremors.
Elemental mercury, the kind found at Kiddie College, appears as a heavy, bright silver liquid that can give off mercury vapor at room temperature. It can flow into cracks and spread throughout an area without being visible.
Inhalation of mercury vapors is the most likely way that children and staff at Kiddie College may have been exposed.
Because mercury vapor is heavier than air, it will accumulate in the air near the floor, in a child's breathing zone.
Urine testing can help identify levels of mercury exposure.
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