Trenton — Legislation now residing on the desk of New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine is a flawed and incomplete response to the “Kiddie Kollege” toxic day-care scandal, according to a letter released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) which is urging the Governor to use his “conditional veto” powers under the state constitution. As now drafted, the bill would continue to allow day-care centers, schools, and homes to be built on toxic waste sites or in converted former industrial buildings that pose serious health risks to occupants, especially children, and neighbors.
“This is the moment when Governor Corzine needs to back up his rhetoric of being independent from special interests,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former analyst with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). “If Governor Corzine will not act now to protect children from a lifetime of damage from breathing poisonous vapors, when will he act?”
On December 14, 2006, the state legislature approved a bill (S2261) originally designed to prevent placement of day-care facilities, schools and residences on contaminated former industrial sites. The bill is now on the Governor’s desk; the Governor now must choose to: 1) sign the bill as drafted; 2) outright veto it; or 3) conditionally veto the bill and send it back to the legislature to concur with the specific changes the Governor recommends. PEER is urging the Governor to exercise his “conditional veto” powers to strike out loopholes and impose real reforms.
Bowing to the powerful builders’ lobby and economic development interests, the state Assembly stripped provisions from the original bill designed to limit construction of new homes on toxic sites. Under the bill, regulatory oversight for conversion of former industrial buildings also remains hopelessly ambiguous. Further, the bill fails to fix crippling oversight and enforcement lapses in the current DEP toxic site cleanup program that allowed Kiddie Kollege and hundreds of other toxic sites to slip through the cracks.
Companion legislation that would have required DEP to conduct indoor sampling of day care centers to determine the nature and extent of any indoor toxics problems was dropped. Polluters who created the toxic conditions are still allowed to escape accountability and cleanup requirements.
“While this legislation is better than nothing, it shows that our state leadership is not serious about addressing the underlying problems that resulted in more than 60 toddlers being exposed to toxic mercury in a state licensed day-care center,” Wolfe added. “Only immediate action by the Governor can prevent this unique opportunity to reform lax cleanup laws from being forfeited. Otherwise, months from now, when another Kiddie Kollege-type tragedy erupts, as it inevitably will, there will be no need to wonder how it could happen.”
In order to remedy the bill’s failings, PEER is presenting specific recommendations for Gov. Corzine to pursue through a conditional veto, including:
- Require that any contaminated sites used for homes, schools or day-care centers be completely cleaned up to “unrestricted use” standards;
- Strengthen indoor health standards for children to account for cumulative exposures; and
- Assure adequate DEP oversight of private industry consultants used in cleanup operations.
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability.