New Jersey: Potentially Harmful Mercury Levels at Day Care Center

Periodic table showing elemental mercury (Hg).

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 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.

Page last reviewed: August 11, 2021