New Jersey day care center directors are feeling the effects of government intervention in the form of additional environmental inspection requirements for initial or re certification of their day care centers.
Is this testing necessary? Probably one of the most asked questions by day care center directors to environmental professionals. In short, yes. The added requirement to have a no further action letter (the additional environmental requirement) from the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) ensures that children are not being exposed to a hazard that might have otherwise not been identified with the previous environmental requirements.
Such is the case of the infamous Kiddie College, a day care center that operated in Franklinville, Gloucester County. The discovery of mercury contamination prompted the DEP to shut down this facility in late July 2006 after workers in the State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) discovered it had been operating on the former site of an Accutherm mercury thermometer factory for over two years. Until it halted operations on July 28, Kiddie Kollege had been providing day care services for children ages 8 months to 13 years old. The New York Times reported that “there are 700 day care centers in New Jersey that are within 400 feet of a toxic site.”
Before 2006 had ended, two more of these dangerous day care centers were discovered. The first of these day care centers was found in the former offices of McCandless Petroleum Company. The second center was identified as Ultimate Scholar located in Toms River, which was contaminated by dry cleaning chemicals. Ultimate Scholar opened in 1999 and was shut down in the summer of 2006.
Regardless of who was to blame, it was apparent that additional oversight was required.
Prior to June of 2006 environmental requirements for day care centers primarily followed chapter 122- Manual of Requirements for Child Care Centers .This regulation did not address the possibility of chemical contamination from previous use.
Let the confusion begin
New regulations enacted in January of 2007 required day care center operators to start dealing with two separate government agencies. Day care center owners were required to submit a preliminary assessment to the DEP. The DOH also requested that a copy of the preliminary assessment be forwarded to them at the same time for their review. To make matters worse DEP required a hard copy of the report while DOH requested only electronic data to be sent.
In many cases owners had waited until very little time remained for renewal of their license. Quite often they were faced with the possibility of not having their license renewed in time due to unforeseen testing requirements, such as soil or air sampling. Fortunately The Department of Health was willing to issue temporary licenses until the Environmental Assessments were reviewed and acted upon.
After a brief adaptation period the agencies have developed a cooperative nature. It is important that the environmental professional retained to conduct the preliminary assessment ensure that the Day care center operator understands how to submit the required preliminary assessment to each agency (DEP and DOH) respectively and in the correct format.