Thursday, January 14, 2010

I'm Back. And Sleepy

Hello You,

I'm back in Amsterdam where it is freezing and I've nearly broken my legs 100 times in just the past two days from slipping on the icey snow. No cycling for me this week.

I was just searching through my blog posts trying to find one about Kiddie Kollege. I know I've written about it but I'm too sleepy to keep looking and as I have recently noticed I have never tagged any of my posts. Hmmmmmm. Maybe I'll start now. why haven't any of you told me this? I depend on you to make sure I'm not forgetting these things.

Kiddie Kollege was a day care that was built inside an old thermometer factory. Oh yes, inside! Similar to an elementary school that opened August 2008 outside Austin,Texas inside an old chemical facility, which so outraged parents that they started a state-wide coalition to introduce and pass safe school siting policy at a state level. It didn't pass but the coalition was really effective and the bill will be re-introduced this coming session.

I feel particular kind of solidarity with this group because as they were learning how to build this coalition I was learning how to put together a national coalition to get local, state and national safe school siting policies passed around the country. It was a great learning experience and though hasn't stayed together very well since I departed, did help pressure EPA to produce federal guidelines (public comment period is coming up) that are much more comprehensive than they would have been without so many dedicated activists at the table (our biggest ask of the agency). All work that I miss very very very much right now.

Damn it. I just got yelled at by one of the facilities guy to stop banging my feet on the ground. My bad! Lyle Lovett made me do it. This is the same guy that had a dream about me last night that I was a red head and pregnant but I lived in a really big house. Hmmm . . . I'm not sure how feel about the dude who kicks the shit out of me in our weekly football game dreaming that I'm having babies.

Kiddie Kollege. This day care center was open between 2004 and 2006. Since its closing, there has been a number of investigations and lawsuits to figure out who is actually responsible for the fact that 100 babies and children suffered mercury inhalation. Is it the original owner of the property? Is it the person who opened the day care? Is it the Department of Environmental Protection who knew this property was contaminated? Is it someone else entirely?

The day care was shut down after someone from the New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection discovered the day care in the contaminated building. The owner of the day care said that he misread the environmental report. The state department released a timeline in 2006 that showed a series of miscommunications about the property and contamination. It first started when the original owner went bankrupt and was forced to close the business. According to law, a company, even one in bankruptcy, is responsible for cleaning up a contaminated site. So when the clean up didn't happen, the state should have put a lien on the building and put up signs to make sure the contamination wouldn't go unnoticed. Obviously this didn't happen.

I want to stress how often this the case. One of the most fundamental pieces of any safe school siting policy must be meaningful community involvement. The state doesn't always know what former businesses were sited on property but a lot of times the family that has lived on the same street for the past 30 years will. People must be invited to participate so that a high school doesn't end up being built on a former undocumented landfill, as is the case many times over in more rural areas. Meaningful community participation is laughed at more often than not in the siting of schools and this is one of the biggest mistakes any school board can make.

Interestingly, Lisa Jackson, the current EPA Administrator, was New Jersey's commissioner of environmental protection at the time Kiddie Kollege was closed. She has made children's health a priority in her reign at the federal level. I've seen a stark change of will in the agency in the past year in promoting safe school siting and releasing information on areas where changes need to be made and children are being exposed to toxic chemicals. In fact, in March of 2009, EPA announced that it will be testing 63 schools in 22 states because of high air contamination in those areas. Here is a national map of where these schools are located.

All the school testing has come back and communities are looking into the results. One thing that should be noted about this project is that industry did know ahead of time when the testing was being completed. I heard from a community leader in Ohio who overheard a manager at a nearby plant say that they were going to shut down emissions that day. Doesn't this man know children who attend that school? Business is business, right? Even if we only have sick communities at the end of the day.

The most important element in understanding air testing like this is not how much of what toxin is captured, though that is extremely important, we must take into account that children are a vulnerable population and the timing of the dose is also extremely important. Industry often discusses that the level of exposure of whathaveyou chemical is 'safe'. What they mean is, when a particular chemical is released, it only matters how much of it is released in order to know if it is of concern. What matters even more than how much is when. Children consume more per pound than adults and have habits of exploring the area around them in a much more tactile manner which exposes them to a greater quantity of toxins than adults. You can damage a child's body for life with just a small amount of exposure and since toxicity is based on an adult male, not a small child, we don't even know what that exposure rate is likely to be.

Today, the Kiddie Kollege building was torn down and the parents of the children and former Kiddie Kollege staff are currently waiting for the next step in their lawsuit against the owner of the building, DEP and Franklin Township for medical monitoring of their children.

Renee Claire

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