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New Toxic Daycare Exposes Loopholes in Corzine Reforms

Middlesex Preschool - located virtually on top of old landfill

Middlesex Preschool – located virtually on top of old landfill

Symbolically illustrating the importance of the issue, the very first piece of legislation Governor Jon Corzine signed in the year 2007, was the so called “Kiddie Kollege”  law (P.L. 2007, Chapter 1.). To much fanfare, in a January 11, 2007 press release, Corzine proclaimed:


TRENTON – Governor Jon S. Corzine today signed legislation to help ensure that child care and educational facilities are environmentally safe for the children attending them.

“This bill will help identify and remediate educational facilities and child care centers located on environmentally high risk sites,” Governor Corzine said. “This puts New Jersey at the forefront of states nationally in protecting children from environmental contaminants while at child care facilities and schools.”

At the time – and in testimony during legislative review of the bill – we warned both the Governor and Legislators that the entire approach was fatally flawed and would not be effective in protecting children from toxic chemical exposures while at schools and daycare centers across the state.

Basically, the fatal flaw was to try to address a massive problem in NJ’s toxic site cleanup program with a band aid – the daycare licensing process.

[Update: We were since advised by DEP Asst. Commissioner Kropp that the cancer risk standard under regulations implementing the law is 1 in 10,000, which is 100 TIMES LESS STRICT THAN DEP REGULATIONS of 1 in a million. Kropp berated me and the entire environmental community for “missing” that. But she knew but supported the bill and never blew the whistle while at DEP. ~~~ end update]

But of course it’s a lot easier politically to sweep the issue under the rug by making it only a day care licensing issue, than it is to take on the powerful chemical industry lobby in New Jersey that is responsible for the problem. Daycare centers don’t have lobbyists or make campaign contributions.

Perhaps even worse, we have learned that the Attorney General’s Office has issued a legal opinion that says that the Kiddie Kollege law DOES NOT APPLY to existing schools. This opinion basically calls the Governor a liar.

The Middlesex preschool case exposes multiple flaws and loopholes in the Kiddie Kollege law:




Oversight of Middlesex Boro Landfill closure, toxic site cleanup, and vapor intrusion are DEP's job.

Oversight of Middlesex Boro Landfill closure, toxic site cleanup, and vapor intrusion are DEP’s job.


1. The Middlesex Boro pre-school where unsafe indoor levels of benzene and TCE were recently found is located virtually on top of an old landfill. Proper closure and cleanup of the landfill is regulated by and is the responsibility of DEP and has NOTHING to do with day care licensing.

2. The source of the chemical fumes in the preschool are caused by what is known as “vapor intrusion”; a process where volatile organic chemicals move from a toxic waste site through groundwater and soils and enter a building from below (see this for a good explanation) . Identifying sites contaminated by and controlling vapor intrusion into buildings is regulated by and is the responsibility of DEP and has NOTHING to do with day care licensing.

3. The source of the chemicals in the pre-school are from a DEP regulated discharge of hazardous substances to soils and groundwater. Cleanup of contaminated sites is regulated exclusively by and is the responsibility of DEP and has NOTHING to do with day care licensing.

4. Thousands of children in hundreds of schools across New Jersey are potentially impacted by vapor intrusion from toxic sites and industrial emission sources. These pollution sources are regulated by DEP and have NOTHING to do with day care licensing.

The Middlesex preschool tragedy was predictable, predicted, and entirely preventable. So, for purposes of public education and accountability, let’s walk quickly through the history of all the warnings that were not heeded by the Governor and Legislators, all of whom knew better:

In August 2006, when the Kiddie Kollge daycare tragedy emerged, we warned:


“What is going on in New Jersey is both unbelievable and to be expected from its deliberately anemic toxic cleanup laws. There are likely hundreds more ticking toxic time bombs out there that have been re-developed with DEP’s blessings.”

When DEP failed to respond aggressively to the tragedy, we warned that a coverup would likely ensue:

CALL FOR INSPECTOR GENERAL TO HEAD MERCURY DAY-CARE PROBE – Severe Toxic Problems Acknowledged in 2002 Internal DEP “Vulnerability Assessment

If we do not want to see this type of debacle recur, it is crucial that the underlying policy, regulatory, and program weaknesses be identified and that is a job for the Inspector General.”

When we disclosed that DEP was negotiating a voluntary agreement with the polluter of Kiddie Kollege that poisoned 60 toddlers, we warned:

NEW JERSEY TOXIC CLEANUP PROGRAM EXPOSED AS TOOTHLESS TIGER – State Allows Industry to Control Cleanup Even In Most Egregious Cases

“New Jersey only cleans up contaminated sites with the consent of the polluter – how nuts is that?” If the Kiddie Kollge scandal cannot produce meaningful reform, then heaven help us because we apparently cannot help ourselves

When DEP conducted a statewide “assessment” of  4,200 day care centers within 400 feet of a toxic waste site, we warned:

60 MORE NEW JERSEY DAY-CARE CENTERS NAMED ON TOXIC WARNINGS – Hundreds of Homes, Schools and Other Facilities May Also Be Vulnerable

“Why is DEP not also giving warning notices directly to parents, teachers and neighboring residents” .… “What is being found at day-care centers is just the tip of a much bigger chemical pollution problem that New Jersey is not ready to acknowledge,”

When we uncovered documents that showed that DEP was actively covering up the problem, we warned:

NEW JERSEY AGENCY SAT ON SECRET LIST OF 6,000 TOXIC DANGER SITES  – Latest Corzine “Kiddie Kollege” Reform Scheme Falls Well Short of Mark

“These documents show that that DEP knew perfectly well that tragedies like Kiddie Kollege were accidents just waiting to happen,… According to testimony delivered by Bill Wolfe, the Corzine plan contains several other major flaws:

The bill skips over existing health risks at more than 700 day care centers which are located on or within 400 feet of contaminated toxic waste sites plus as many as 100 schools located on or near toxic waste sites;

When similar toxic problems were found at schools, we warned:

TOXIC SCHOOL SCANDAL SPOTLIGHTS WEAK NEW JERSEY LAW – Parents Get No Notice of Child’s Exposure in Deregulated State Clean-Up Program

As we have repeatedly warned, every few months another toxic scandal will erupt and state officials will again try to act as if they do not know how it could happen. The place to start looking for answers is in the mirror.”

When scores of old landfills were shown to be polluting groundwater and emitting poison gases into nearby homes across the state, we warned:

NEW JERSEY POSTS LIST OF 831 DIRTY DUMPS BUT NO CLEANUP PLAN – More than One in Six Abandoned Dumps Polluting Groundwater

“A number of housing developments have sprung up along the perimeter of the landfills, without proper notification to purchasers or adequate cleanup and closure. In some places, [toxic] gas has migrated into basements and drinking water wells have been contaminated…. In a December 12, 2006 letter, Bill Wolfe asked the Corzine administration to warn potentially impacted residents”

When so the called Kiddie Kollege reform legislation was being considered by the legislature, we warned:

NEW JERSEY TOXIC DAY CARE REFORM BILL STILL MISSES THE MARK –  State Grasping for Quick Fixes to Broken Brownfields Program

“While the intent and some provisions of this ambitious legislation are commendable, the bill fails to address the underlying flaws in NJ toxic site cleanup laws, while the indoor air program may be unworkable”

When the Kiddie Kollege bill was on Governor Corzine’s desk, we warned and requested a conditional veto::

CORZINE URGED TO CLOSE LOOPHOLES IN TOXIC DAY-CARE BILL –  Conditional Veto Could Strike Out Exemptions and Strengthen Safeguards

“This is the moment when Governor Corzine needs to back up his rhetoric of being independent from special interests. If Governor Corzine will not act now to protect children from a lifetime of damage from breathing poisonous vapors, when will he act?”

(end of story – tomorrow, Part III)

  1. Sal
    October 15th, 2009 at 08:49 | #1

    You make very good points, but shouldn’t the daycare centers/schools bear the most responsibility in that they should be performing the proper due dilligence to ensure that they are not constructing businesses on old contaminated sites. This has to do with daycare licensing, because a daycare must complete a preliminary assessment of their proposed Site prior to startup of buisness and get NJDEP and DHSS approval. For existing facilities, they must perform an environmental investigation at their first license renewal.

    The DEP has come a long way since the Kiddie Kollege incident in my opinion. Unfortunatley these costs are out of the daycare center and not polluter. But in most cases you don’t know who the polluter is and there are no funds for cleanup, so the cost must be incurred by the daycare/school. The DHSS has also recently promulgated NJAC 8:50, which requries daycares to perform additional indoor enviroonmental health assessments to ensure that the indoor air and daycare/school environment is safe.

    Can you name another state is doing more than NJ in this regard in making sure that a daycare center is environmentally safe?

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