In late July 2006, it was revealed that the Kiddie Kollege day care facility in Franklin Township was built on a site previously used by a thermometer manufacturer with a history of mercury contamination and had not been properly cleaned up. Two years later, U.S. Congressman Frank LoBiondo's (NJ-02) ongoing efforts to ensure a similar incident does not occur elsewhere in New Jersey or any other state has advanced as the initial phase of a public awareness campaign - a science-based report on the prevalence of childhood exposure to mercury - is being distributed nationally.
"When it was determined that children and workers at the Kiddie Kollege facility were exposed to mercury, there was a legitimate fear in the Franklinville community. The most powerful tool to combat that fear is science-based facts," said LoBiondo, co-chair of the Children's Environment Health Caucus. "While providing Franklinville residents with medical testing and the necessary information to respond to the Kiddie Kollege exposure, I also wanted to ensure other communities across the country would not have to experience a similar incident."
Initial testing of the children and staff in summer 2006 determined there was mercury exposure and, working with fellow New Jersey Congressman Rob Andrews (NJ-01), LoBiondo contacted both the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to request expanded long-term testing of the homes of children and staff at Kiddie Kollege. However, LoBiondo remained concerned that existing and future mercury exposure incidents could occur, putting further children at preventable risk.
In response, LoBiondo authored legislation to instruct the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to convene a work group of scientists to investigate and report on the exposure of children to mercury. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can affect the nervous system, lungs, brain and kidneys. Specifically, the ATSDR/CDC Mercury Workgroup was established to: 1) identify the exposure sources associated with elemental mercury exposure in children; and 2) describe the location, demographics, and proportion of children exposed or potentially exposed to elemental mercury in the U.S.
The ATSDR/CDC Mercury Workgroup report was recently issued to LoBiondo and posted on the agency's website detailing their findings. Copies of the report will be provided to each state's health departments, federal health agencies, community groups and additional public health partners. The report found that:
Ø Children are most often exposed to mercury at home or at school, most commonly by broken thermometers;
Ø Mishandling and improper clean-up cause most exposures;
Ø Mercury exposure can be prevented by providing more factual information to teachers and parents and, subsequently, teaching children about the dangers of mercury.
"While thankfully a rare occurrence, the Kiddie Kollege incident must serve as a stark reminder that children can and unfortunately may be exposed to mercury," continued LoBiondo. "As the report demonstrates, future mercury exposures are preventable if the correct public health officials, teachers and parents have the facts and take action. I will continue to look at additional methods for raising awareness of this serious public health issue to help ensure another community does not have to live with their own Kiddie Kollege nightmare."