Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Tougher child-care safety rules urged

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Courier-Post Staff

Gov. Jon Corzine on Friday ordered a state agency to bolster environmental safety standards at child-care centers in New Jersey.

The governor's call came about a month after a day-care facility closed due to mercury contamination in Franklin, Gloucester County. Kiddie Kollege had operated for more than two years in a former thermometer factory previously identified as a polluted site.

"We have a responsibility to make sure that the places we trust to care for our kids are held to the highest standards for safety," Corzine said in a statement.

Under planned rules, people seeking child-care center licenses must certify that their facilities are not at polluted sites. If sites have been contaminated, applicants must show they have been "sufficiently remediated," Corzine said.

Christopher Manganello, a Pitman attorney representing 18 Kiddie Kollege families, praised Corzine. "The governor gets it," he said, noting the measures will protect future generations "from the type of government misconduct which has occurred."

Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club's New Jersey chapter, called the rules "a step in the right direction," but said more must be done to protect the state's children and residents.

"With more than 4,000 day-care centers and 17,000 contaminated sites in New Jersey, my concern is we don't know how many day-care centers are on contaminated sites," said Tittel.

He also said the state should improve its site-remediation program to prevent future incidents like Kiddie Kollege, where tests found elevated levels of mercury in about a third of the facility's 60 students. No of the children had dangerous levels of the toxin in their systems, state health officials said.

"As we're running out of (available) land . . . we're building more and more on contaminated sites," said Tittel. "I hope the next step will be cleaning up the cleanup program."

The rules are to be developed by the Department of Children and Families.

Corzine previously directed several state agencies to investigate how to improve communication between state and local officials.

Also, the Department of Environmental Protection is working to improve safeguards, including tracking and prioritization of contaminated sites. The agency is to determine if new rules are needed to ensure that buildings at known polluted sites are not occupied without the knowledge of state officials, Corzine said.

Reach Jim Walsh at (856) 486-2646 or jwalsh@courierpostonline.com

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