|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced today that, in a significant legal victory for the State‘s environmental protection efforts, a Superior Court Judge has found multiple defendants liable for a total of $6.13 million to cover the cost of cleaning up mercury contamination at the site of Kiddie Kollege, a former day care center in Franklin Township, Gloucester County.
Superior Court Judge Anne McDonnell found that, despite their denials of legal responsibility, current property owner Jim Sullivan Inc., former owner the Navillus Group, and other “Sullivan Defendants” are liable for costs related to the clean-up and removal of mercury discharged by a thermometer-making factory located on the property before Sullivan bought it and leased it for use as a day care site.
Also legally responsible for clean-up costs are previous property owner Philip J. Giuliano and the now-defunct thermometer manufacturing company he owned, Accutherm, Inc. According to the Court’s ruling, all defendants share a total liability of $2.04 million for the Kiddie Kollege property remediation, but Giuliano and Accutherm are liable for an additional $4.09 million because they failed to comply with a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) directive that they clean up the original contamination caused by their unlawful discharge of mercury at the site.
“This is a very significant legal win for the people of New Jersey, and for our environment,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “It is only fitting that the original polluters – as well as those who bought the property from them and leased it to others without doing their homework -- are held accountable.”
“In New Jersey, we hold firmly to the principle that those responsible for cleanups should be held liable for the cost of that work,” said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin.
“This ruling holds particular significance because this pollution so directly impacted children and their families,” said Martin. “Today, the DEP, the New Jersey Department of Health and local agencies work closely together under a state law passed as a direct result of Kiddie Kollege to protect our children in day cares and schools.”
Kiddie Kollege halted operations in July 2006 after both the DEP and the Department of Health and Senior Services determined the building in which it was housed was not fit for occupancy.
The determination was made on the basis of air and surface samples that found unacceptably high levels of mercury throughout the building. A naturally-occurring element, mercury is toxic to humans when inhaled or ingested.
The single-story building, which has since been razed, was acquired by Sullivan at tax sale and subsequently leased by Sullivan to the operators of Kiddie Kollege. Kiddie Kollege opened in 2004 and, throughout its two years of operation, provided day care services for children ranging in age from 8 months to 13 years.
In granting a motion for summary judgment filed by attorneys from the Division of Law, Judge McDonnell rejected assertions of non-liability by the Sullivan Defendants, noting that the mercury contamination “could have been discovered by research of historical use, or examination of the DEP’s contaminated sites list, or by following their attorney’s advice to engage an environmental professional to assess the property before proceeding to foreclose the tax sale certificates.”
The judge also determined that Philip Giuliano, as the lone shareholder, CEO and corporate officer of Accutherm, directed his employees on how to handle and dispose of mercury during the company’s operation, and also was solely responsible for the decision to shut down the business “and abandon the unremediated property.”
Division of Law Deputy Attorneys General Timothy Malone, Lisa Morelli and Richard Engel handled the Kiddie Kollege matter on behalf of the State.