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Stories from the Field

To show the importance of using safe siting practices with new child care centers, we’ve highlighted 3 case studies from the guidance manual. These stories illustrate the importance of safe siting policies and intra-agency collaboration — and the risks of what can go wrong without them.

Connecticut: Arsenic in drinking water

The problem

When a daycare opened on the site of a former gas station in 2012, the Connecticut Department of Public Health (CTDPH) knew they needed to investigate. They found that contaminated soil and the underground gas tanks had already been removed during previous cleanup.

But when they advised the child care operator to test the well water, they found something unrelated to the site’s past use — high levels of naturally-occurring arsenic.

The solution

CTDPH recommended that the child care operator either use bottled water for cooking, drinking, and food preparation, or install treatment to reduce arsenic to acceptable levels. They also alerted the state child care licensing program about high levels of naturally occurring arsenic in wells in the area.

Without CTDPH’s involvement, the operator would never have known about the arsenic — because checking for it in well water is not required as part of child care licensing.

New Jersey: Potentially harmful mercury levels

The problem

Kiddie Kollege Day Care opened in 2004 — in a contaminated building that was a former thermometer factory. For 2 years, children and staff breathed in mercury vapors above health guidelines. When the problem was uncovered, 1 out of 3 of children and staff tested had above-normal levels of mercury in their urine.

The incident was largely the result of a breakdown in communication between state and local agencies.

  • New Jersey’s Environmental Department knew that the manufacturer had never cleaned up the property, but didn’t have a policy for sharing information about contaminated sites
  • Local permitting and licensing staff did not communicate clearly with New Jersey’s Environmental Department when Kiddie Kollege signed a lease on the space

The solution

The operators closed the facility to protect children and staff from mercury vapors. But the legal and financial fallout has been ongoing — including $6.1 million in cleanup costs and damages (paid by the manufacturer) and a $1.9 million settlement.

As a result of the incident, New Jersey passed some of the strictest regulatory requirements related to environmental exposure in the nation. The program has been a notable success. Since it started in 2007, New Jersey identified 87 child care centers where harmful exposures were possible and action was needed, protecting an estimated 1,512 children from harm.

New York: High PCE levels

The problem

In early 2002, parents of children who attended (or had attended) the Tutor Time Daycare Center contacted the New York State Attorney General’s office. They’d learned that the site was next to a Superfund site — Jackson Steel — and were concerned about possible health risks.

Air testing inside the day care found levels of tetrachloroethylene (PCE, or perc) — a common industrial chemical used in dry cleaning — above New York State’s guidelines. The EPA took action to lower the levels, and the owner hoped to open a new day care on the site. But later testing found that while the air quality was improved, PCE levels were still higher than New York State’s guidelines.

The solution

Based on the testing results, New York State’s Department of Health contacted the Department of Children and Family Services. They recommended against issuing a license for the day care unless the air quality issues were completely resolved. In 2003, Children and Family Services followed their advice, and the owner’s permit was denied.